Court operations committee releases guidance addressing issues of Indigenous peoples amid COVID-19

Committee issues a document listing tips for situations where symptoms appear in courtrooms

Court operations committee releases guidance addressing issues of Indigenous peoples amid COVID-19

The Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19 has published a document suggesting solutions to problems faced by northern, remote and Indigenous communities in the context of the pandemic.

The action committee has also released a document listing recommended emergency measures for courts across Canada to protect the health and safety of court users in the event that COVID-19 symptoms show up in the courtroom.

On July 31, four resource persons with knowledge and experience relating to court operations in remote communities enlightened the action committee via their presentations on the unique justice sector challenges facing their communities or regions and shared their insights on how the action committee might address these difficulties.

The common issues encountered by these communities and regions include deficiencies in resources and in their capacity to enforce the health and safety measures required to restore court services, difficulties in adapting responsive methods of justice delivery to remote alternatives and the unequal distribution of technological tools, which may be worsened by socio-demographic circumstances, according to the action committee.

In addition, these communities may experience anxieties and fears about non-resident judges, court staff, lawyers and parties participating in their court operations and about the heightened risks of COVID-19 to the elderly population, which many Indigenous communities deeply value. The document suggested that courts keep in mind that “justice is a service, not a place” and that “justice is a shared responsibility” as key principles when formulating solutions to these unique issues.

The resource persons suggested the launch of a Virtual Indigenous Justice Centre and the establishment of liaison officers in northern, remote and Indigenous communities who can ensure improved community interaction with the justice system. The document noted that the resolution of these challenges requires coordinated efforts across different levels of government and locally-driven solutions informed by communication and collaboration among justice system stakeholders, health professionals, social service providers and others.

To provide access to high quality, impartial and independent justice to northern, remote and Indigenous communities, success would depend on “having additional resources, but also — and above all — on the commitment of all involved to reconciliation while respecting the various roles of the country’s democratic institutions,” Richard Wagner, Canada’s chief justice and co-chair of the action committee, said in the news release.

The Tip Sheet on Courtroom Symptom Appearance and Related Situations, also newly published by the action committee, suggests measures for courts to adopt during COVID-19-related emergencies that may still occur in spite of the controls that are in place at the entrance of courthouses.

The document discussed the symptoms of COVID-19, the individuals who may develop such symptoms and the possible steps to take if judges, court staff, members of the public, witnesses, jurors, accused individuals and inmates experience symptoms. The document also went over sanitation and disinfecting practices, the use of non-medical masks, isolation rooms and contact tracing.

David Lametti, federal justice minister and co-chair of the action committee, called the release of the guidance documents a milestone. “Coupled with the important work of the Action Committee, they will help us meet our goal of greater access to justice,” Lametti said in the news release.

“All Canadians must have the confidence that the justice system is there to protect them.”

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