Iacobucci Report – The time for talk is over!

Ontario Justice
Ontario Justice

First Nations Representation on Ontario JuriesTHUNDER BAY – The Ontario Government appointed Mr. Frank Iacobucci to conduct a review of existing processes, hold consultations, evaluate best practices, and provide a final report within a year. The report should serve as a wake up call according to Iacobucci,  “This Report will, I hope, be a wake-up call to all who are concerned with the administration of justice in Ontario”.

Iacobucci Report – A wake up call for Ontario

“Regrettably the fact that the justice system generally as applied to First Nations peoples, particularly in the North, is quite frankly in a crisis.  If we continue the status quo we will aggravate what is already a serious situation, and any hope of true reconciliation between First Nations and Ontarians generally will vanish”.

Iacobucci, states, “Put more directly, the time for talk is over, what is desperately needed is action”.

“If this Report and its recommendations together with their implementation are put on the shelf, we as a society will all be the worse off and the momentum for progress will likely come to a halt. The consequences of this will be very serious”, adds the former Supreme Court Justice.

The report states, “As with most issues involving First Nations peoples, it is difficult to deal with one issue in a discrete manner without dealing with the influences of many other factors that impact on the specific issue in question. So it is with representation of First Nations peoples on Ontario juries. What appears at first blush to be a narrow assignment simply on jury representation as set forth in the Order-in-Council, triggers considerations and ramifications from numerous other factors that affect the principal question of my mandate as an Independent Reviewer of the subject”.

As part of the review, recommendations will be made on how to enhance First Nations representation on the jury roll.Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) acknowledged the Independent Reviewers’ report on First Nation representation on Ontario jury rolls released at a press conference in Thunder Bay today.  The Honourable Frank Iacobucci was appointed to report on First Nation representation on Ontario jury rolls in August 2011 following court decisions questioning the validity of Ontario jury roll with respect to representation by First Nations. 

Ontario Attorney General open to adopt report

Attorney General John Gerretsen says, “I will be reaching out to my counterparts across government and to First Nations leadership to discuss the important issues raised in this report and to begin the work that is needed to address them.

“As a first step, continued Gerretsen, “We will immediately work to address Mr. Iacobucci’s top two recommendations. Since no solution to increasing First Nation representation on jury rolls can occur without working directly with First Nation partners, we will form an implementation committee that includes representatives from the First Nations community and from various government ministries. The committee will consider the report’s recommendations, and how they might be implemented. A provincial advisory group will also be set up to provide advice to the Attorney General on matters relating to First Nations and the justice system”.

Recommendation 1: the Ministry of the Attorney General establish an Implementation Committee consisting of a substantial First Nations membership along with Government officials and individuals who could, because of their background or expertise, contribute significantly to the work of the Implementation Committee. This Committee would be responsible for the oversight of the implementation of the below recommendations and related matters. In view of the importance and urgency of the matter, I recommend that the Committee be established as soon as practically possible.

Recommendation 2: the Attorney General establish an Advisory Group to the Attorney General on matters affecting First Nations and the Justice System.

Nishnawbe-Aski Nation – Quality Time Invested

“We would like to recognize and thank The Honourable Frank Iacobucci for his hard work and dedication that went into the preparation of this report,” said NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno.  “He invested quality time to ensure there was inclusion of our communities through this process which will go a long way in restoring confidence in the justice system.”

“NAN has fought for years to uncover the truth about the systematic exclusion of First Nations from the Ontario justice system, and the release of this report is a key first step towards ensuring that First Nations are adequately represented in the Ontario justice system,” said NAN Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, who holds the justice portfolio at NAN. “We accept this very credible report and look forward to working with the Ministry of the Attorney General to ensure not only that all First Nations can exercise their right to serve on juries but that there is a path forward to fix the justice system.” 

The report, First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries, includes recommendations specific to NAN First Nations to ensure enhanced representation on the jury roll: 

  • The establishment of an Implementation Committee consisting of a substantial First Nations membership to be responsible for the oversight of the implementation of the 17 recommendations and related matters;
  • The establishment of an Advisory Group to the Attorney General on matters affecting First Nations and the Justice System; and
  • There are studies conducted by the Implementation Committee on legal representation, policing issues, and a review of the Aboriginal Court Worker program. 

This report draws an important linkage between the narrow question of First Nations exclusion from the jury system and the broader alienation of First Nations from the justice system. The conclusion that the justice system in the North is in crisis comes in the wake of an extensive consultation process in NAN communities” said Julian Falconer, NAN’s legal counsel. “Justice Iacobucci has been clear about the way forward. It is only through respectful government-to-government relationships that justice and jury issues can be resolved.” 

NAN’s efforts to secure a review of the jury roll followed revelations during the Coroner’s Inquest into the Deaths of Jamie Goodwin and Ricardo Wesley (the Kashechewan Inquest) in 2008 that the Kenora Judicial District jury roll only contained names of First Nations people from 14 of NAN’s 49 First Nations. In the case of Kashechewan First Nation, not a single member of that community had ever been included on a jury roll.  Since then, a NAN-led coalition publically sought a report on the circumstances and extent of the exclusion of First Nations. 

In March 2011, NAN and two First Nation families won a landmark Court of Appeal judgement recognizing their right to conduct inquiries into the validity of the juries empanelled in the Thunder Bay Judicial District. The appeals followed the refusals by the presiding coroners at the Inquest into the Death of Reggie Bushie and the Inquest into the Death of Jacy Pierre to summons the court official responsible for assembling the Thunder Bay jury roll, to give evidence as to whether First Nations people were adequately represented. 

The Court found that the District of Kenora jury roll was “manifestly unrepresentative” and that “there is no reason to think that the unrepresentativeness of the jury roll in the District of Kenora is unique.” The Court also found that “court officials did very little to obtain other records” and that there is little reason to believe the situation is better in Thunder Bay. 

The representation on juries might also be reflective of the very low turnout at the polls during elections of First Nations voters across Northwestern Ontario.

Pre-inquest hearings into the death of Reggie Bushie were held in July 2011 at the Superior Court of Justice in Thunder Bay with Dr. David Eden presiding as inquest coroner. In September 2011, the Coroner ruled that the 2011 Jury Roll for the Judicial District of Thunder Bay is not representative of First Nation reserve community residents, does not comply with Section 6(8) of the Juries Act, and that the inquest could not proceed.

Iacobucci Report First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries by James Murray

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