Funding for Indigenous-led projects address flaws in justice system

Indigenous people are overrepresented in the Canadian justice system, whether as victims, accused, or offenders.

Access to Indigenous-led justice services across Canada continues to be an important way to achieve systemic change in the justice system. Programs and resources are needed in every stage of the justice process to create this change, according to a March 12 press release.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Arif Virani joined Executive Director of Aboriginal Legal Services Chantell Barker and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Julie Dabrusin to announce funding of more than $2.1 million to support three Indigenous-led projects that aim to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canada’s justice system.

“Investing in Indigenous-led projects that address the systemic barriers that First Nations, Inuit and Métis face in the justice system is key to achieving lasting change. Aboriginal Legal Services continues to make a significant difference for urban Indigenous communities in Toronto. Collaborative approaches such as these projects and working together to advance reconciliation are how we will create a better future,” said Virani.

The first project supports initiatives under the Community Council Program, a criminal diversion program for Indigenous offenders in Toronto. Initiatives include the Giiwedin Anang Council, an Indigenous Family Dispute Resolution program that supports civil family mediation; an evaluation of civil and family mediation; and a community-based Gladue Aftercare program, which provides the accused with services to support their healing. Justice Canada is providing $1,290,394 over six fiscal years.

“Helping address and prevent the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system continues to be an important aspect of advancing reconciliation and achieving systemic change. Today’s announcement reaffirms Canada’s commitment to projects like these that reflect the experiences of Indigenous people while supporting culturally appropriate, Indigenous-led and community-based justice services,” said Dabrusin.

The second project supports the Gladue Program. Funding will help Aboriginal Legal Services write Gladue Reports. Glaude Reports are pre-sentencing reports prepared following a guilty plea or a finding of guilt. They include information on the unique circumstances of the offender and of Indigenous people and provide recommendations to the court regarding appropriate sentencing. Justice Canada is providing $598,309 over six fiscal years.

“In the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation, today’s announcement is very exciting for Aboriginal Legal Services and the people we serve. This funding allows Aboriginal Legal Services to provide a safe space for Indigenous people to speak their truth, address root causes, and restore balance within themselves, their families, and the community. For reconciliation to occur, we must work together to address the over-incarceration of Indigenous people in the justice system by recognizing the importance of culturally responsive alternatives and solutions,” said Barker.

The third project supports Aboriginal Legal Services to prepare a needs assessment for the Toronto Courthouse and Bail Centre Project. This assessment, which is underway, will address the challenges and opportunities presented by the centralization of the Gladue Courts in Toronto. A key focus of this project will be to ensure greater First Nations, Inuit and Métis input into decisions about the Gladue Courts and how they incorporate Gladue Principles. Justice Canada is providing $249,120 over three fiscal years.

Justice Canada is providing funding for these projects through the Indigenous Justice Program. This Program supports Indigenous projects and initiatives that offer alternatives to mainstream justice processes in appropriate circumstances.

The announcement supports Canada’s efforts to advance reconciliation and respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action 30 and 31.

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