Ottawa's first Indigenous peoples court to be announced Friday
Specialized court to handle cases of Indigenous offenders in Ottawa
The provincial government will announce the opening of Ottawa's first court for Indigenous peoples this week, CBC News has confirmed.
A ceremony to make the news official will take place Friday afternoon inside the Ottawa courthouse on Elgin Street, which sits on traditional Algonquin territory.
According to a memo shared with courthouse staff and obtained by CBC News, Ontario Court Justice Celynne Dorval has invited members of the Ottawa Crown Attorney's Office, Legal Aid Ontario, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, and the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa to the opening.
Members of the Aboriginal Legal Services, the Odawa Native Friendship Centre, and Tungasuvvingat Inuit are also expected to speak at the ceremony to provide more details about how the new court will operate.
This Indigenous peoples court has been several years in the making, with assistant crown attorneys, defence lawyers, and others working on the project ahead of Friday's announcement.
Indigenous adults make up high percentage of jail populations
The opening of the specialized court is meant to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canada's criminal justice system.
Ottawa's first Indigenous court, also known as a Gladue court, draws its name from a 1995 court case where a defendant successfully argued the court should consider the lived experience of an Indigenous offender, for example, the trauma associated with the residential schools system.
This ruling is enshrined in Canadian law in section 718 of the Criminal Code, which states alternatives to imprisonment should be considered for all offenders, "with particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders."
Indigenous adults accounted for 26 per cent of admissions to provincial and territorial jails from 2015 to 2016, while only representing 3 per cent of the adult population in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. The figure is slightly higher — 28 per cent — for Indigenous adults in federal institutions.
Statistics Canada also reported 38 per cent of the female population in provincial and territorial correctional institutions was Indigenous. The percentage for Indigenous females in federal institutions was 31 per cent.
"There obviously is a problem here," said Claudette Commanda, granddaughter of the renowned late Algonquin elder William Commanda.
"History, as well as even some current issues, do show that there's still racism that is out there. Institutionalized, systemic racism."
Commanda, of the Algonquin Anishinabe First Nation, was invited to perform a purification ceremony at the event on Friday.
She said she believes the new court will provide Indigenous offenders with the resources they need to begin rehabilitation and protect them from future incarceration.