‘Systemic racism’ toward natives in justice system, Frank Iacobucci finds
TheStar.com – news/Canada – Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci writes a stinging report on “racism” in the justice system toward aboriginals.
Feb 26 2013. By: Tanya Talaga Global Economics Reporter
Former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci says he is not an alarmist by nature, but the lack of First Nations civic rights in the justice system has disturbed him to his core.
After 50 years of practising law, Iacobucci says his work surrounding the residential school settlement and probing a lack of aboriginal representation on juries are two issues that have perhaps meant the most to him as a Canadian.
In an interview with the Star before the release of his year-long independent review concerning First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries, Iacobucci said, “I am of the view once Canadians see the truth of what is going on, they’ll be convinced we need to do something about it.”
Iacobucci did not mince words in the 158-page report entitled First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries. He admonished the justice system for engaging in “systemic racism.”
“I have called it a crisis, a serious crisis. And I am not an alarmist. We are talking about the lives and liberties of people. I don’t know if you can get more of an important issue subject than that,” Iacobucci said from the 33rd floor of Torys law firm in downtown Toronto.
The Companion of the Order of Canada was asked to lead a review in 2011 by the provincial government to examine why native people are not serving on court and inquest juries.
It was the inquest into Reggie Bushie’s death, a 15-year-old from Poplar Hill First Nation, that captured the attention of the province after his family and Nishnawbe Aski Nation asked to stop proceedings so aboriginal people could be part of the jury pool.
Since 2000, seven native youth died while in Thunder Bay attending high school. Six drowned in the waters leading into Lake Superior. The lone girl, Robyn Harper, asphyxiated.
Iacobucci made a point of visiting each of the isolated reserves that were the homes of the seven. Their individual stories, of leaving home alone and living in boarding houses just to seek an education, haunted him as he wrote the report.
“If we don’t take hold of this seriously, we are going to, I think be perpetrators, unwittingly, of personal tragedies here,” said Iacobucci, former chair of the Torstar board.
Examining Canada’s troubled history with First Nations people, the cloud of residential schools and hopelessness on some reserves was not part of his mandate but Iacobucci said he quickly found he could not divorce those issues from why so few natives serve on juries.
“We can’t continue to treat First Nations as objects. We have to be partners. I don’t care if it is in the justice system or economic development. It is going to take time.”
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