Thank you for the invitation and apologies for the delays, everybody. Thank you kindly for your patience.
[Witness spoke in indigenous language]
My name is Drew Lafond. I'm here as the president of the Indigenous Bar Association in Canada. Serving as president, I'm in the second of a two-year term.
The IBA, by way of background, is a not-for-profit organization comprised of indigenous lawyers, judges, academics and students across Canada. Our mandate, generally, is to promote the advancement of legal and social justice for indigenous peoples in Canada and the development of laws and policies that affect indigenous people, generally.
In response to the request by the committee for submissions, the past year has been rife with examples about territorial sovereignty, broken treaty promises between the Crown and indigenous peoples and more shockingly, the disvalue of indigenous lives, particularly the lives of indigenous women and youth.
The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the underlying legal, political health, economic and social injustices that indigenous peoples and communities face. Against this backdrop, the IBA is acutely concerned with the treatment of indigenous peoples in the recognition and respect of their human rights. The IBA responded to the events in the last year by finding some pragmatic and timely responses to the rapidly changing political, economic and social realities facing indigenous peoples.
The first initiative we undertook was in April 2020. We partnered with researchers at the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Saskatchewan to conduct an online survey that examined the legal impacts of COVID-19 and the ability of the legal profession to respond to those impacts. As part of that study, the participants primarily spoke about jurisdictional issues that they were facing, such as conflicts over who has the authority to regulate who's coming into indigenous communities and who has the authority in relation to a community's pandemic and health response. It includes the exacerbation of jurisdictional issues that were happening prior to the pandemic, including the state undermining indigenous laws and legal authorities. Participants expressed concerns regarding consultation and negotiations where existing agreements and precedents meant to uphold indigenous rights were too often being ignored in the interest of economic revitalization plans. Concerns were raised about the case delays, which have worsened an already slow process and deferred indigenous rights matters further. These delays are uneven, with indigenous clients having to wait for access to the courts while resource extraction approvals by the Crown continue at a regular and accelerated pace.
We must address the clear gendered issues in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. These include increased family violence, disproportionate family care responsibilities faced by indigenous women, access to safe and stable housing, gender violence outside of the home, concerns about industry or “man camps” posing dangers to the health and safety of nearby indigenous communities, and worsening economic inequalities for indigenous women. These gender-specific injustices create barriers to indigenous women being able enforce their rights and access meaningful, legal participation.
Secondly, the IBA worked with the UBC faculty of law, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs' BC First Nations Justice Council, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and the first nations or indigenous legal clinic in B.C. to study 21 reports in the last 30 years concerning indigenous peoples in the justice system.
As a result of that study, we pulled 10 recommendations for immediate action, which I'll mention briefly here: create a national indigenous-led police oversight body; establish a national protocol for police investigations; redirect public safety funding to services that increase community safety; implement a multi-pronged indigenous de-escalation strategy; establish a national protocol for police engagement with indigenous peoples; amend Canadian and provincial-territorial human rights codes to include indigenous identity as a protected ground against discrimination; create indigenous courts; increase indigenous representation across all levels of the criminal justice system; and establish requirements that judges give written reasons in all indigenous sentencing cases and require that judges give written reasons in all indigenous child apprehension cases where a child is placed outside of the indigenous community.
Just to close off, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we're facing significant challenges in being able to centre our well-being and our legal rights, including our rights to health, access to our territories, to our laws and to self-determination. Canada has fiduciary obligation to support the enforcement of rights and protections for indigenous peoples.
Those are my submissions to the committee today. Thank you.