In The Journey Together, Ontario committed to create a culturally justice system that responded to the needs of Indigenous peoples. From that document: “In order to counter the pervasive and lasting effects of the residential schools, Ontario acknowledges that meaningful changes to the justice system are necessary.” Five of the specific commitments under this section fell under the authority of the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG). Below is a summary of recent actions the MAG has taken to address these five commitments.
1. Expand and create new Indigenous-specific victim services
MAG has partnered with Indigenous organizations to create more victim services for Indigenous peoples specifically. MAG has retained a consultant to engage with Indigenous communities to identify needs and gaps in victim services for Indigenous peoples – that consultant completed her report in March 2017.
Currently the MAG is reviewing the recommendations and will strategically partner with Indigenous organizations and communities which will deliver victim services.
2. Expand the Indigenous Legal Principles and Systems
Control of the justice system is a key indicator of the degree of self-governance and self-determination that a First Nation holds. Indigenous legal traditions are a fundamental tenant of Indigenous governance, and recent academic and community work has facilitated the creation of an Indigenous justice methodology. Specifically, a project at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law and the TRC completed the “Accessing Justice and Reconciliation Project” which developed an Indigenous Law research methodology.
In Ontario, The Journey Together initiated a project to revitalize Indigenous legal traditions with a Call for Proposals that was released in October 2016, ultimately funding 12 projects that revitalized legal systems. While the particulars varied by project, two of them explored the feasibility of an Indigenous Language Court. Another call for proposals was closed recently, with funding for new additional projects being rolled out in the 2017/18 fiscal year. A third Call for Proposals will be issued in 2018/19 as well.
Chiefs of Ontario has explicitly supported these kinds of initiatives. At the All Ontario Chiefs Conference, the Chiefs in Assembly resolved to direct the Chiefs of Ontario secretariat to explore and support initiatives to “identify, recover, and revitalize the legal principles, legal traditions, and legal systems of Indigenous Nations,” to fund these projects, to seek the advice of Indigenous legal experts, and to report back to the AOCC.
3. Expand and enhance Restorative Justice Programs
MAG is supporting projects meant to enhance Indian Act bylaw enforcement. Areas of project focus includes developing and revising Band bylaws, education concerning bylaws, hiring bylaw enforcement officers, and opening or continuing dialogue with police and the Ontario government to foster collaborative enforcement. This initiative has funded 30 new community-based restorative justice programs in 2017-18, bringing the total to 39.
4. Expand the Gladue Program
The one year update on The Journey Together focused heavily on the developments in this particular initiative because developments have been swift and significant. As committed, a Gladue Summit was held in November 2016 with Indigenous communities, Elders, and youth, service providers, the judiciary, crown prosecutors, and government representatives. This summit identified gaps in Gladue services, and began the creation of a strategic plan for the Gladue expansion. Part of this strategic plan included increasing the number of Gladue Report Writers (from 21 to 42) and Gladue Aftercare Workers (from 4 to 42) in Ontario. A forthcoming report on this Summit will further inform how Ontario will partner with communities and organizations to provide Gladue services in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Expanding the Gladue program aligns with the Special Chiefs Assembly Resolution 13/47, which reads in part that the Chiefs in Assembly will, “advocate for the recognition, respect, and implementation of the Gladue principles within the provincial and federal justice and correctional systems, as directed by the Supreme Court of Canada.” It also called for the Justice Sector at COO to advocate for implementation of Gladue principles, and ensure that necessary funding is available.
5. Create an Indigenous Bail and Remand Program
MAG is creating a comprehensive Bail and Remand program which will develop pilot projects on Indigenous Bail Verification and Supervision, as well as incorporating distinctly Indigenous policies, training, and staff positions into existing bail and remand programs. The MAG is currently exploring the interest in pursuing these kinds of projects.