House of Commons Hansard #264 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was peoples.

Topics

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Chair, I welcome this opportunity tonight to discuss and learn about the experience of indigenous people within our justice system.

There is no question that indigenous people are grossly overrepresented in the system, and there are many varied opinions why this is. This evening's debate was precipitated by the unfortunate event in my home province of Saskatchewan, when a young aboriginal man by the name of Colten Boushie was killed. I am not going to go into any of the details, as I believe everyone knows about this court case.

I had the chance to meet Colten's mother and some of his family members today. I personally expressed my condolences to her, and in return, she said that I have a warm heart, and it is beating. I also learned of the racist attacks her friends and neighbours have faced over the last few days in Saskatchewan.

I believe Colten's mother, Ms. Baptiste, is watching the debate here tonight. It is my sincere wish that she can take some comfort in knowing that there are people here who are genuinely concerned about the well-being of the indigenous peoples of Canada.

As I said earlier, there are many options on the causes of the overrepresentation of indigenous people in our justice system. I believe one of the core elements is the educational system. Prior to entering politics, I was a school board trustee for many years, so I have first-hand knowledge of the educational barriers that face many first nation youth in my province and of the dismal graduation rates.

My wife Ann has over three decades of experience helping indigenous students reach their goals. She was a classroom and resource teacher. Now my daughter Courtney and my son Geoff have followed my wife's footsteps and are educators. They all have first-hand experience with first nation students in their classrooms. I believe the many hours of conversations, both at home and at board meetings, have given me a pretty good perspective on where we can improve in this area. In fact, as a member of the indigenous and northern affairs committee, I moved the following motion last November 28, 2017:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the Committee undertake a comprehensive study of Indigenous education and graduation rates from secondary schools; that the scope of the study include standards for high school graduation, standard curricula, standard qualifications for educators and statistics for national graduation rates from reserve schools in comparison to Indigenous students off-reserve and also to non-Indigenous students; that the witness list include responsible Indigenous Services department officials, band councils, band members, Statistics Canada officials, First Nation organizations responsible for delivering education services such as First Nations Education Steering Committee, and community groups; and that the Committee report its findings to the House within twelve months of the adoption of this motion.

My motion has not been voted on yet, but I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all my committee colleagues to support this study. I would also say that I am encouraged by the Prime Minister's statement earlier today when he said, “Indigenous youth should not grow up surrounded by the things that place them at elevated risk for suicide, such as poverty, abuse, and limited access to a good education and good health care.”

I am a firm believer that an education is a powerful tool. It can open many doors, and I would like to see many more doors opening for Canadian indigenous children, not slamming shut behind them as they enter the justice system.

Just this afternoon, I had a conversation with Bobby Cameron, who is the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

He explained that their intention with the inherent and treaty rights memorandum of understanding with the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre, with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association is to educate and create more knowledge on the whole aspect of inherent and treaty rights as first nations people, to help curb some of the false attitudes and perceptions that some people have, and to make it mandatory for all high school students in Saskatchewan to take a hereditary treaty rights class in order to earn a grade 12 diploma.

He is absolutely right. Non-aboriginal peoples in this country also have to learn more about the rights of aboriginal peoples, which they are entitled to under our own Constitution. Anyone doubting this needs to only read section 35.

In the news release announcing the MOU, treaty commissioner Mary Culbertson said, “Education was the vehicle used to oppress first nations people”. Through education about the spirit, the intent, and the treaty relationship, “Reconciliation can be one day achieved (and) education will be the vehicle to take us there.”

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the second reading of Bill C-262, an act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. During my comments, I noted that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada was chairing a cabinet committee reviewing Canada's laws, policies, and operational practices to ensure that the Government of Canada is fulfilling its constitutional obligations and implementing its international human rights commitments, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The committee undertook this review a year ago, and to my knowledge, we have not yet seen a report. Let me just say it is a step in the right direction.

I am also encouraged by the comments made recently by Saskatchewan's new Premier Scott Moe and our justice minister, Don Morgan. They both agree that there are some serious and probably uncomfortable conversations that have to be had on racism, on rural crime, and on the justice system. Premier Moe stated:

We respect the decisions of the justice system and its independence.... But as we move forward it's incumbent on us as a government to have those very important, very challenging discussions with our aboriginal community in the province, and all of our communities in the province.

He went on to say:

I've been made aware of a number of comments that are racist. There's no place for that in the province of Saskatchewan.... This isn't an easy thing to talk about for anybody, but it's something we have to talk about.

Justice minister Don Morgan said:

...we want to hear from first nations leaders, but I think the comments that people are making, that they want to see more indigenous people involved in the system, is a fair comment.

He also said:

I think we're open to have those kinds of discussions with the federal government. ...we'd be willing participants....

As Conservatives, we are always interested in hearing from Canadians on ways in which we can improve Canada's justice system. We would welcome and carefully consider proposed legislation that would improve the justice system.

Finally, my remarks this evening have made reference to the province of Saskatchewan a number of times. I would like to assure everyone watching this take-note debate that these problems by all means are not limited to my home province. They are a national problem and they require a national plan to overcome them. It is the duty of all 338 of us, as representatives of the citizens of this country, in concert with the indigenous representatives, to work on these critical problems and find solutions.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:15 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Chair, I would like to ask the member what his suggestions are with respect to changes that could be made in the criminal justice system or other systems to reduce the percentage of aboriginal people who are incarcerated. As was mentioned in many previous speeches, it is much higher than the population at large.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Chair, as government they need to propose, and in opposition we need to react. I am going to say this many times.

When I was a school board member in our province, as I reached a community of northern Saskatchewan my first stop was the cemetery. Why did I do that? I wanted to see how many youth we had lost. I have done this over and over for many years. It tells the story of a community before I even enter the community. If there is a gravesite entering a community in my province, I always stop, because that is the truth. Nobody needs to tell me the truth, because I see it when I walk among the graves. I look at when they were born and when they died.

We have talked about suicide. We have talked about hope. I have talked about hope many times, and I will again in my further comments about what we can do with respect to education to give our young people in this country hope.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:15 p.m.

NDP

Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Chair, my hon. colleague from Saskatoon—Grasswood and I share a community. We represent citizens in Saskatoon. It is a community that I know we both love. Obviously, from his comments, he understands that we have some challenges. They are not unique to Saskatchewan, but they are challenges that people right across Canada know about. We had a police department in Saskatoon that dropped indigenous people off on the side of town who froze to death. We have had lots of challenges, and there are things we need to do. I liked his comments about education.

To follow up on the comments of my colleague across the way about what changes we need to make or what role education plays in perhaps not having indigenous people overrepresented in the justice system, I wonder if the member could share some ideas on how he thinks those two are linked. What role does education play in people's lives and why is it that indigenous people are not doing well in our education system?

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Chair, it is all about partnerships. I was a school board trustee before I came here. I was on the executive of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association. I was a member of the Saskatoon board of education for a number of years. It is partnerships.

For the first time ever, we worked with the former aboriginal affairs minister, John Duncan, for two to three years in our city, and the Whitecap Dakota First Nation. The graduation rates for indigenous students in this country are deplorable. What are we going to do? There are two things we can do. We can leave them the way they are right now in this country, which is horrible, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, on the island, or we can do something about it.

Through the former minister, John Duncan, we made a partnership with the Whitecap Dakota where our teachers in the Saskatoon public school division had a chance to go out and learn treaty education right on the reserve. We paid our teachers and our principal to go out there and to teach first nation education. Also, in doing that, we went to the grades 3 and 4 on the reserve, and then we welcomed them back into our city. In fact, we named a school after Chief Whitecap. It is in my riding.

Members should think about that, the partnership of the Saskatoon board of education and the Saskatchewan school boards reaching out to the Whitecap Dakota, one of the founders out there, and we named our school Chief Whitecap School. It is part of our education system, one that we in Saskatchewan are very proud of.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:20 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Chair, I recently visited a prison in my own riding and I was struck first of all by, unfortunately, the very high proportion of indigenous people in that prison and, second, by the very low rates of education that I was told those inmates had attained. It speaks exactly to the important points that my colleague made. He also highlighted the importance of solutions happening at the local level, not just coming from the national level but also of local communities becoming involved.

I wonder if the member can speak a bit more to the importance of local engagement and local partnerships and also what role the national government can play in encouraging local communities to have the resources and the know-how to form these kinds of partnerships that come out of particular local realities.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Chair, there is some great work happening in this country, and not only in my school division that I came from in Saskatoon. It is happening everywhere. We all know education is the doorway to prosperity. It gives first nations students a chance.

In my province I want to tip the hat to the mining companies that have reached out to northern Saskatchewan, companies like Cameco and Areva, where they have given first nations in the north a chance for employment. Unfortunately in the last year, uranium prices have come down and the companies had to lay off 845 people, but do members know what the company of Cameco did? Even though people were laid off, the company guaranteed for one year 75% of their wage. The company wants to keep those people. It wants to reach out to them. What a fantastic proposal by Tim Gitzel, the CEO of Cameco, knowing that they are going to need those workers back, that they are very valuable, and that they have a connection with the north. That, to me, speaks volumes about our industry in the province of Saskatchewan.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:20 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Chair, I found the personal reminiscences of my friend from Saskatoon—Grasswood and the work he did on the school board to be quite inspiring.

I am just wondering about turning our attention to another part of needed education, and that is the education of settler-culture Canadians to understand the issues. I do not think we will be able to achieve reconciliation without a far deeper appreciation on the part of settler-culture Canadians of the wrong that has been done and of the intergenerational searing pain and injustice that remains present. It is not historical. It is present throughout indigenous communities from the residential school system. I wonder if as an educator, the member can think about what we need to do to educate settler-culture Canadians as has been recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Chair, we have to use our resources. One of the greatest resources we have, which is not being used, are the elders. They are there for us. They want to participate in first nations education. They just have to be tapped to come and tell their story.

I know when I first got on the board of education, I did not know what smudging meant. I did not know it was that important, but for first nations students when they got up in the day and wanted to come to school, that was part of their culture. It is a give and take. I needed to learn that, and a lot of us in the system need to learn that. When we do learn their cultures, we have a better understanding and it is easier for students to get up in the morning and go to school. That is the biggest obstacle that we have in this country, where kids from K to 12 are still in bed at 10 and 11 in the morning and do not come to school, and we pay for it later.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Chair, mahsi cho.

[Member spoke in Gwich'in]

As with all my speeches in the parliamentary precinct on the traditional territory of the Anishinabe Algonquin people, I would like to thank them: gunalchéesh for the spiritual, uplifting ceremonies that I have attended with them.

We too have stories of horrible, dark events, not only in the justice system but in many other aspects of life as well. However, I would like to spend my limited time tonight offering some possible routes forward to hope, based on some of the successful initiatives created and implemented by Yukon first nations.

For thousands of years, indigenous Canadians have lived and survived here just fine. They governed themselves. They had their own justice system. They had their own traditional laws. Their traditional way of life was successful. Now look at indigenous people in today's justice system. Is that working well? Clearly, from previous speeches, no.

Do members think that putting indigenous people in touch with traditional laws and processes that have served them successfully for thousands of years might help? Many in Yukon first nations feel they will.

I will give some successful examples now, and it is important to note that these successful initiatives did not come from governments but from the Yukon people themselves. They were created by Yukon first nations.

As the Prime Minister said today in his speech, which I think will be one of the most historic speeches in this House of Commons on indigenous people, self-determination is foundational. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the ways that Yukon first nation governments, in partnership with other levels of governments, are moving forward with reconciliation and creating a more inclusive system when it comes to indigenous people in Canada's justice system.

It is fitting I should speak today, as today we mark the 45th anniversary of Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow. On February 14, 1973, a delegation of Yukon first nation chiefs presented Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau with the historic document “Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow”. This was one of the first land claims accepted for negotiation in Canada, and it became the basis for negotiating the Umbrella Final Agreement signed in 1993, followed by 11 Yukon first nation land claim and self-governing agreements that are in place today.

These modern treaties are viewed across Canada and around the world as the leading model for new relationships with indigenous people. As part of the self-government agreements, first nations have gained the authority to administer justice. While these provisions are still being negotiated with a number of Yukon first nation governments, we are seeing some interesting developments as they move forward.

The Teslin Tlingit Council signed its Administration of Justice Agreement with the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon in 2011, the first of its kind in Yukon. Through this, they have enacted their own Peacemaker Court, an important step in allowing the Teslin Tlingit Council to administer its own laws and govern its citizens.

Not unlike federal, territorial, and provincial governments, many Yukon first nation governments have justice departments. These departments deal less with punishment and more with child welfare, healing, and restorative justice through traditional knowledge and traditional processes of justice.

The Kwanlin Dün First Nation in Whitehorse has also implemented a unique, successful community safety officer program. The first nation administers its own officers to patrol and respond to incidents within the McIntyre subdivision, while working with RCMP, Whitehorse bylaw officers, or Yukon conservation officers. The program has seen police calls in the area drop by an unprecedented 40%.

Yukon first nations are also working on expanding the capacity of Gladue reports production in the justice system. In the fall, the Council of Yukon First Nations, with funding from Yukon's Department of Justice, hosted a workshop on writing Gladue reports, the first step in building a reserve for the much-needed service in the community, building on the success of the many that have been used in the courts and reducing the rate of incarceration of indigenous people.

As members can see, when we work hand in hand with first nation governments, we begin to build a system that is more inclusive and better accommodates the experience of indigenous people in Canada.

To conclude, what are possible avenues to reach exits back into the light?

First, consider consensual and existing customary practices. Second, consider peacemaker courts, like in Teslin. Third, consider indigenous traditional processes for resolving disputes. Fourth, consider wilderness, land-based treatment, such as the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and other Yukon first nations have used for decades.

Fifth, and the next three are three items that if anyone, officials in provincial, federal, or territorial governments, is watching, these are things that could reduce huge numbers of people in the justice system, that could save millions upon millions of dollars, and reduce massive amounts of human suffering. The first one is that it has to be remembered that over half the people in the justice system are either on a substance or getting the money to get that substance. That has to be dealt with first.

Sixth, huge numbers of people who should not be in the justice system have mental illnesses. That has to be deal with first. Seventh, the third one, a huge percentage of the people in the criminal justice system who should not be there have FASD. If that is dealt with, it would reduce immense human suffering.

Eighth, consider the successful wellness courts that occur in the Yukon and have been there now for a number of years. Ninth, consider the Teslin Tlingit Council justice diversion program based on traditional Tlingit justice. Tenth, consider the Kwanlin Dün First Nation justice program that promotes awareness, understanding, prevention, empowerment, and healing. Eleventh, consider Kwanlin Dün's outpatient drug treatment program and youth land-based, wilderness-based, and adventure-based treatment.

Twelfth, consider alternative sentencing, such as circle sentencing practised by youth justice programs. Some people suggest that circle sentencing is an easy route out of jail, and that is totally untrue. Just imagine having to face a circle of family and friends to apologize, to explain what had been done, and to take a punishment from them. It is much harder for these offenders, much more successful but much harder for these offenders to do that. Some of them do not want to do that, but it has been proven time and time again. Vern White, a former police chief in Whitehorse, a former police chief in Ottawa, and a Conservative senator was a big supporter of these diversion programs, of alternative restorative justice.

On the recidivism of people, I gave three big ways to take a lot of people out of the system. The other is dealing with recidivism. It is 60%, 70%, 80% of people who come out of jail and go back in, under normal circumstances. In one instance of this circle sentencing, this restorative justice, the alternative sentencing that I just talked about, in the Dawson City youth program told me that recidivism was zero. That is an incredible success story, compared with 60%, 70%, 80% of people going back into the jails.

The member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou said that the definition of hope, given by Nelson Mandela was that when there was darkness all around, there is still a point of light.

I hope that tonight I have given 12 possible avenues to move towards that point of light.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:30 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Chair, on this side of the House we are very interested in what the member for Yukon had to say on this particular issue.

The member talked very passionately about a whole vision and gave a number of examples of opportunity that he saw for a better future, and a better future for the justice system. I have to think it has to be frustrating for the member because he is in government now, and it has been two and a half years with no substantial movement made in terms of almost anything.

As we are looking at moving forward, perhaps it will not only be the justice system and what needs to be done next. The member knows what it is like to be in communities that sometimes have the tensions related to a tragic incident. What will the member recommend that the government do to help de-escalate some of the tensions they are feeling in Saskatchewan right now?

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Chair, I hope that if we implemented some of these 12 examples I gave, they would start to reduce the tensions, as they have in my area. I was careful to try not to boast or talk about what the government has done, but for all these programs I just mentioned, I could have mentioned the dollar figures the government came in with to support the first nation initiatives. Some were $300,000; some were $700,00.

The self-government agreements that allowed these justice agreements that I read out were all signed. Four of them were signed while I was a member of Parliament. I think this is an example of the way forward, the way to reduce those tensions.

As I said, it is not perfect. We are taking far too long to negotiate justice agreements, but they are not easy.

I think they are an advantage over some areas. People around the world are looking at these agreements as a way of moving forward with indigenous peoples in their nations.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Mr. Chair, perhaps the member could comment on some of the underlying causes of the issues we see with indigenous peoples today, particularly the wanton destruction of indigenous culture through the residential school system, and especially the loss of language, which is really the core of culture.

I grew up in Penticton on the edge of a reserve, but I was 25 years old before I heard someone speaking an indigenous language fluently. That was in the cafe in Lee's Corner in the Chilcotin.

A few years later, I met someone I had grown up five kilometres from in Penticton who spoke fluent Nsyilxc?n, the language of the Okanagan peoples. I had no idea there were even people who could speak that language fluently. Now we see a revival of that language, as the member mentioned, through initiatives of the indigenous peoples of the Okanagan putting on classes. I have sat in classes all day, listening to people speak Nsyilxc?n. It is a very humbling experience for me.

I wonder if the member could comment on getting at some of these root causes.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Chair, I love that question, because it allows me to say something I wanted to say in my speech, but I did not have time.

The parliamentary secretary was just in the Yukon to meet with aboriginal peoples and discuss how we are going to implement our new language program, to do exactly that.

However, I want to tell a story about a young woman. We had a circle, a couple of months ago, of young indigenous women. This woman had spoken at the United Nations. She said some people say the way out of this misery, the poverty of first nations people, or of any people, is to give them a job. She said it is all backward. It is exactly as the member said: what they need first is the revitalization of their culture, of their language. Then they have pride in themselves. Then they will have no problem getting the education we talked about tonight. They will have no problem getting the jobs we talked about tonight.

It is that cultural revitalization that gives them the same pride that everyone else has in their historical culture, and they can move ahead like everyone else.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Mr. Chair, I thank the member for Yukon for his very moving speech. I also want to thank him for all the efforts in his own riding in changing lives within his community.

I heard him mention Gladue reports. I will be speaking about them myself a little later, but I wonder if he could speak to the importance of those within the criminal justice system. The fact they are being done well in his community is something that is really important. That is not the case all across Canada. I wonder if he could speak about what they are and why they are important within the justice system.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:40 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Chair, the justice system has a provision that in sentencing we have to take into account the history of aboriginal people. Other than that, when someone comes before a judge, they do not have that much time. The judge does not know them as a person. Most judges, until we get more first nation judges, do not know the entire different background of the residential schools or the intergenerational problems or the different cultures people come from. A Gladue report paints this all out. It describes the person. The judge gets to know the person as an individual, not just as an entity in front of him.

With that detailed information about how that person is different from all the other people who have appeared before the court, the judge can then follow the justice system's rule of being sensitive in sentencing.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2018 / 9:40 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Chair, in the context of reforms to the justice system, I want to recognize the work the member has done with his private member's bill on FASD. I was pleased to support the bill. The previous Conservative member for Yukon had done a lot of work on this issue as well. It has been a non-partisan issue. Hopefully we will see some progress at some point with respect to recognizing the role that kind of situation can play in the justice system.

One of the other issues we need to be sensitive to in the justice system is judicial independence. At the same time, we need to look at issues within the system and strengthen it.

Some people have raised concerns about comments that have been made by politicians with respect to a court decision in a context where nobody really knows what happened inside the jury room and what those deliberations were. The jury is not in a position to necessarily defend the reasons for its decision.

Could the member comment on the issue of judicial independence and whether he thinks the comments made by the Prime Minister and the justice minister were appropriate in that context?

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:40 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Chair, I want to thank the member for his support of my bill on FASD and people not being treated appropriately in the justice system. I really appreciated his support. He and I tried to collect further support, and we certainly moved the goalposts.

When I go into schools, I talk about the independence of the judiciary and the importance of that. I use a pie chart. If they look at all the boxes, the one box that is not connected to anything else in government is the judiciary. That is what separates us as a modern and free democratic society. Politicians do not interfere in the justice system. We can get put in jail just like anyone else. The Prime Minister follows the same laws as everyone else, and that is important.

From what I have heard, everyone in the House understands that concept. We make the laws and the judiciary implements them. That is an important concept in our democracy.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Chair, I rise to speak to this take-note debate on indigenous Canadians and Canada's justice system, in particular, the many issues and challenges facing indigenous Canadians in their interaction with the justice system. Those issues and challenges are not new. They are long-standing. They are rooted in the history of Canada.

The fact is that far too many indigenous Canadians have a profound mistrust of the justice system. They do not feel they are represented. They do not feel they are included. They do not believe the system is fair. They do not have confidence that if they were charged with an offence, they would receive a fair hearing or a fair trial. They hold a deep suspicion toward law enforcement rather than viewing law enforcement as a partner in keeping their family and community safe. In short, they believe that far too often the justice system has not been just and has not rendered justice for indigenous Canadians.

The basis for this mistrust is deep rooted. It arises from a number of systemic issues that goes back many generations. That includes a history of discrimination toward indigenous Canadians. The result of that is that there has been a multi-generational mistrust of the criminal justice system.

The integrity of Canada's justice system and the maintenance of public confidence in that system depends not only on justice being done, but the perception that justice is being done. In that regard, there is considerable work to do. The fact is that closing that gap, building trust, building confidence among indigenous Canadians in Canada's justice system is complex, it is challenging, it is going to take time, and it is going to take hard work.

Among the challenges is the fact that there are cultural differences in traditional indigenous approaches toward conflict resolution. There also needs to be a recognition that this level of mistrust is not something that is abstract for many indigenous Canadians, but something that is very personal, that is very real, that is a part of their individual experiences and the experiences of their families, friends, and neighbours in their interactions with the justice system and actors within the justice system. It is no secret that many of those interactions for many indigenous Canadians have not been positive ones.

As I say, it is going to take continued dialogue among indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians alike, respect, and mutual understanding, and it will require sharing the truth. That is important as part of this process toward reconciliation, a multi-generational process that will require the continued involvement and engagement of all Canadians.

While we have this debate and dialogue in the House, which hopefully will continue, it is important to look at the long term. It is also as important, as we do that, not to lose sight of some of the simple, straightforward, and practical things that can be done to enhance confidence on the part of indigenous Canadians in Canada's justice system.

One of the issues that has been discussed quite widely over the last week or so has been the representativeness of juries, the fact that we have seen an under-representation of indigenous peoples participating in juries and how that can impact upon public confidence in the administration of justice. This is not a new issue. It has been studied in a number of jurisdictions, including Canada. Most recently, former Supreme Court Justice Iacobucci studied this issue in some detail for the Government of Ontario and issued a report in 2013.

I have not had an opportunity to read the report in its entirety. There were 15 or 16 recommendations, most of which were for the province of Ontario. I cannot speak to all of the recommendations. Having not read the report in its entirety, I cannot say that I endorse all of the recommendations. However, having the opportunity to read parts of that report, it struck me, based upon some of the recommendations of Justice Iacobucci and some of the observations he made, that there really were practical things that could be done.

One of the things that Justice Iacobucci observed was that many indigenous Canadians just did not have much interaction with the justice system, other than relatively negative interactions. There is a lack of awareness and as a result of that lack of awareness, a lot of indigenous people are not necessarily as inclined to participate in any way in the justice system, including in juries. Therefore, working with indigenous leaders and communities to talk about collaboration, education, and the justice system is an important step.

The justice committee, of which I am a member, over the last few months has undertaken a fairly comprehensive study, hearing from a wide range of witnesses on issues that face jurors. While the focus of that study was largely on issues around stress and PTSD, a recurring theme was the lack of support and remuneration for jurors. Justice Iacobucci touched on that. In particular, he noted, and it was certainly noted in evidence before the committee, that indigenous peoples and other marginalized Canadians were particularly impacted by the little remuneration that jurors received and the general lack of supports they were provided for doing nothing more than their civic duty.

Those are two very practical, minor things that could be done. There is a long list of other things that could be done, but we need to move forward, reflecting certainly on the past but trying to work together to achieve true and meaningful reconciliation, because it will not be achieved unless we are all in it together, all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Chair, the member's speech was positive and thoughtful. It was very compelling because we have all identified a major problem and it is great when we all work through it together.

The member raised a very interesting point. I am not a lawyer, but I heard a lawyer mention the other day that justice needs not only to be done but it needs to be seen to be done. He raised that very interesting point. I am curious. People read the paper and say that the judge should have done this or that, but they were not in the court. They do not know what all the evidence was. Just using the example of the average person, not with aboriginal people involved, how does the member think we can deal with that problem where justice needs to be seen to be done as well? How can we educate people better? It is a very interesting idea.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Chair, seeing that justice is seen to be done includes ensuring and working to increase the participation of indigenous Canadians. Part of the problem here is when we see a lack of participation, for example, of indigenous peoples serving on juries and when we see indigenous communities who do not have a good relationship with law enforcement, who do not trust the court system, who do not believe that the system is fair. It includes outreach. It includes efforts to increase that participation. It also includes education for those who are actors within the justice system, whether they be crown attorneys, judges, or law enforcement officers, about some of the issues facing indigenous Canadians to create greater understanding and sensitivity to issues facing indigenous communities.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:55 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Chair, right now the status of women committee is studying the experience of indigenous women in the justice system and in jails. The stories we are hearing are 100% terrible. It is an even worse story than we had understood.

A particular theme that has come from a great number of the witnesses is that extra burden that was put on indigenous women when the previous Conservative government brought in mandatory minimum sentencing. It took away the discretion of judges. Say, for example, a woman is an accessory to a crime. Her car is used as the getaway vehicle and her boyfriend is charged. It used to be that the judge could say, “You can serve your time on the weekends and you can get your sister or your grandmother to look after the kids on the weekends when you're in jail.” That is all gone. That judicial discretion is gone because of what the Conservative government put in place.

Here is an example. Jonathan Rudin from Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto:

What happens then is that the person goes to jail, and if they don't have someone to look after their kids...they will lose their kids....Even if the person gets their children back, they will have been removed from their families.... [T]hat experience of being taken from your family and put into foster care...is incredibly damaging.

How could this be happening in this country at this time? We know how much damage generations of residential schools did to disrupt family parenting, and our judicial system is doing it right now. The Liberal government two years in has not kept its campaign promise to—

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Sorry, we have to move on.

The hon. member for St. Albert—Edmonton.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

9:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Chair, I would respectfully disagree with the hon. member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith on her observations with respect to mandatory sentences.

I fully support mandatory sentences. I believe that individuals who commit crimes need to be held accountable. That being said, in terms of the issues around the overrepresentation of indigenous Canadians in our justice system, we have to deal with some of the underlying systemic issues. That includes providing opportunities in education. It is why our previous Conservative government invested some $10 billion in education directed toward indigenous Canadians. It involves providing training, jobs, and opportunities, because at the end of the day, we are not going to see true and meaningful reconciliation unless indigenous Canadians have the opportunities and tools to participate in the economy to achieve a level of economic autonomy that for many indigenous peoples is sorely lacking in this country.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Chair, I also know my colleague is a lawyer by background. I had asked this of another lawyer in the House earlier; however, I did not get a clear answer. I wonder if he could explain the concept of what a jury is and is not allowed to do with respect to any decisions that are made, so that the people who might be watching can understand some of the limitations that are placed on jurists.