Improving Indigenous Representation on Juries
Province Releases Final Report of the Debwewin Jury Review Implementation Committee
Ontario has received the Final Report of the Debwewin Jury Review Implementation Committee.
The Debwewin Jury Review Implementation Committee included Indigenous leaders, a judicial representative and government representatives. It was brought together to advise the Ontario government on what actions it should take to address the Honourable Frank Iacobucci's 2013 report First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries.
The committee travelled to 13 communities to meet with Indigenous leaders, Elders, justice workers and Indigenous people, including youth, to develop its recommendations. The committee worked collaboratively and provided ongoing advice to the Province throughout its mandate so the government could begin working on recommendations right away.
Based on the committee's advice, Ontario has already taken the following actions:
- Amended the Juries Act to extend the reply period for completed juror questionnaires from five days to 30 and removed the intimidating language included on the questionnaire related to non-compliance
- Created a new division within the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Indigenous Justice Division — the first in Canada
- Established the Indigenous Justice Group to provide advice directly to the Attorney General on justice related issues affecting Indigenous people within Ontario
- Funded two feasibility studies for Indigenous language court pilot projects to improve criminal justice services for Indigenous language speakers within Ontario
- Increased resources for Indigenous justice services including: additional First Nation Liaisons and expanding the Indigenous Courtworker Program
- Passed regulations to allow the creation of a volunteer juror list for coroner's inquests in Thunder Bay and Kenora districts.
The Debwewin Implementation Committee's final report summarizes the committee's implementation advice on all 17 of Mr. Iacobucci's recommendations.
The committee's work and the release of this final report represent important steps towards improving the relationship between Indigenous communities and the Ontario justice system. Although this work is significant, the government recognizes that there is a much more work to be done in order to ensure a culturally relevant and responsive justice system for Indigenous people.
Ontario will be focused on this work going forward, through initiatives such as The Journey Together: Ontario's Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Further, the government intends to collaborate and engage with Indigenous communities as it determines next steps.
- In 2011, the government appointed former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci to carry out an Independent Review and make recommendations to ensure and enhance the representation on Ontario juries of Indigenous people living on-reserve.
- The name Debwewin was given to the Jury Review Implementation Committee by Elder Barney Batise, a member of the Committee and a respected Nishnawbe Aski Nation Elder. Debwewin is the Anishinabemowin word for truth.
- The Province has developed a comprehensive Indigenous cultural competency training curriculum, known as Bimickaway, an Anishinabemowin word meaning to leave footprints. The curriculum is delivered to ministry counsel and staff, as well as staff across the Ontario Public Service.
- The Journey Together: Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples outlines the province's response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action.
“I am pleased to receive the report of the Debwewin Implementation Committee, which represents years of hard work and an unyielding desire to improve the underrepresentation of First Nations peoples on Ontario juries. This is a longstanding issue and remains an important concern for Indigenous Peoples and for our government.”
“I am pleased to present the final report of the Debwewin Jury Review Implementation Committee to address the underrepresentation of First Nations Peoples on Ontario juries. I thank my co-chair, Irwin Glasberg, and all Committee members for their hard work and dedication throughout this process. I hope our final advice will guide the continued work to ensure better representation of First Nations Peoples in the jury system, and the ability for their voices to be heard in a fair and representative justice system.”