Minister made comments during Indigenous Peoples and the Law conference
Federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti outlined his top priorities related to Indigenous peoples and the legal system, including removing minimum mandatory penalties and developing a roadmap to advance implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Speaking on the second day of the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice’s 45th annual conference on Indigenous Peoples and the Law, Lametti said that as Parliament prepares to resume Monday, “we must transform the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the justice system.”
Lametti made his comments amid three days of presentations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous legal experts, many of who pointed to a past of broken promises, repeated delays for restitution and a justice system that does not correctly incorporate Indigenous legal orders.
Lametti said among his priorities is recognizing “the damage [of] minimum mandatory penalties,” noting the over-representation of Indigenous people in the legal system, the under-representation of Indigenous judges and lawyers, and the traumatic impact of a history of colonialism and racism.
He added, “we’ve also seen the negative impact of the effective elimination of conditional sentence orders.” Keeping such orders would, in fact, “help us to move towards other forms of sentencing, such as restorative justice, and other more inclusive and community-driven" measures.
The minister said legislation dealing with these issues is a “critical first step.” He added that he intends to bring a bill on that matter and “looks forward” to seeing it passed into law.
Another matter Lametti vowed to address is how to redress the injustice Indigenous peoples endured in the past when forcibly sent to residential schools and the devastating impact of that policy that lingers within Indigenous communities today. The recent discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on the sites of former residential schools has only heightened the distress.
Lametti said one of the options the federal government is considering – “a suggestion that has come from Indigenous leadership to move forward” – is the idea of a “special interlocutor.” This person would be appointed to help build trust and act as a facilitator – “a door opener with the various institutions that are at play here.”
He added Ottawa is in “active discussions” with Indigenous leadership on the idea to see that it is implemented quickly. He called this appointment as a “first-step” response to help build towards other responses but doesn’t preclude more “robust” changes to the federal legal system to allow for inquiries or prosecutions that aren’t currently available.
Regarding UNDRIP, with the royal assent of the act, Lametti said there is much work to be done to make sure Canadian laws are consistent with the declaration. Over the next 18 months, the federal government, in conjunction with First Nations, Inuit and Metis, will work to develop an action plan, he said.
The Minister said that a UNDRIP Secretariat has now been established in the Justice Department to support the work, and the formal engagement process will begin shortly.
“I am not naive about how this will unfold. There are real challenges here, undoing 150 plus years of colonial laws and policies will take more than 18 months.”
However, Lametti described himself as an optimist. “The action plan will help bring about meaningful change in many areas such as policing, justice, health, sustainable economic development, inclusion, equality,” he said.
Moreover, the work will be done “together with First Nations, Inuit Metis. And through it, I believe, we will begin to see the true promise of reconciliation.”