Indigenous Justice Strategy: What We Learned Report: Summary
Wave 1 Justice Canada-Led Engagement
August 2023

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Table of Contents

Executive Summary

This document is a summary of the Indigenous Justice Strategy: What We Learned (Wave 1 Justice Canada-led Engagement) Report. To read the full report, please visit: Indigenous Justice Strategy: What We Learned (Wave 1 Justice Canada-Led Engagement)

This report summarizes key themes identified from engagement with over 700 individuals during Wave 1 of Justice Canada-led engagement on the Indigenous Justice Strategy (IJS).

This report highlights input from the 26 virtual dialogue sessions that took place between November 2022 to March 2023. This report also includes themes identified from the 250 individuals that registered and participated in Wave 1 online engagement activities hosted on the IJS online engagement platform.

This report does not include information to be provided by Indigenous-led engagement partners, which will also inform the IJS.

Engagement methodology

Justice Canada engaged with the following groups over 26 virtual dialogue sessions:

Sessions focused on the two themes of the IJS:

  1. Supporting Indigenous justice systems;
  2. Reforms to the existing Canadian justice system to address systemic discrimination and the overrepresentation of Indigenous people.

In most cases, a dedicated session was held on each theme for each distinction and demographic (for example, two sessions were held specifically with Elders, one on both themes). Sessions were adjusted throughout the engagement period based on feedback received from participating Indigenous partners. This flexibility allowed for changes such as scheduling additional sessions to enable more discussion time.

Key Takeaways by Theme

The following points highlight the most frequently discussed themes across all meetings.

Theme 1: Supporting Indigenous justice systems

Theme 2: Reforms to the existing Canadian justice system to address systemic discrimination and the overrepresentation of Indigenous people

Across both themes, we heard from participants that:

What is the intent of the Indigenous Justice Strategy?

The primary objective of engagement on the IJS as identified by Justice Canada is to develop a culturally appropriate strategy, informed by Indigenous ways of knowing and healing, that includes concrete recommendations for action to address systemic discrimination and the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the Canadian justice system.

Primary objectives of the IJS identified by participants thus far:

What We Heard About Supporting Indigenous Justice Systems

Participants from across distinctions, jurisdictions and experiences agreed that the aim of the IJS should be to help communities build and manage their own justice programs. There was a clear focus on community healing and holistic solutions to address the social determinants of justice rather than focusing on colonial ideas of isolation and punishment.

“When I think of Indigenous law, it's about responsibility. And I know in a colonial world, we live in a world of rights. But through Indigenous law, what I've learned is our birth is a right and that we have a lot of responsibilities, not only just to the land, but to the community, to our family, our tribe, the society as a whole. And so I feel that's my knowledge from Indigenous law and how I integrate it (sic) into my own life is my responsibility in my actions through the way I live my life.”

The colonial system does not work for Indigenous peoples and their needs and cannot be “adapted” to suit Indigenous communities. There is a need for community-based justice solutions that focus on restorative justice rather than punishment and isolation from community. Justice must also be holistic and take social determinants of justice into account.

“And I think that goes hand in hand with handing back jurisdiction to communities, jurisdiction over child welfare, jurisdiction over education, over childcare, over our ability to provide for ourselves through hunting and fishing and things like that, that have us less reliant on colonial systems of income or things. Just all of those things need to be addressed. And sometimes it's very, very frustrating to see how siloed the criminal justice system is apart from all of these other things that, when people come in and talk to me like we can't hide from the fact that this person desperately needs to see a doctor, yes, they have their conditions that we're trying to work on with bail and probation, but this person is in desperate need of the basics in life.” 

What We Heard About Reforming the Existing Canadian Justice System

While participants overwhelmingly expressed that the goal of the IJS should be creating the space and funding needed for Indigenous justice systems to thrive, they also shared their views on short-term changes that could be made to the existing justice system that would impact their communities. The following topics were highlighted by participants across all Theme 2 sessions.

“Speaking as (sic) someone who's worked in the courts, from my own community, having Indigenous-specific victim services and where that's not available, making sure that victim support services, which are often housed in courthouses, but just wherever they're housed, to make sure that they're of course going to be trauma-informed, but trauma-informed through an Indigenous lens in a way that can support Indigenous peoples.”

The system is complicated and not compassionate.

“A lot of these systems are not friendly. They're often hostile. They're often confusing and unfamiliar. [We advocated] for something we refer to as system navigators. And that's not even just criminal justice specific. That can be child welfare, that can be health care, that can be education, but especially with criminal justice system helping to navigate through the courts, helping to navigate through arrest and policing and detention and bail and all of those things.”

There are programs and supports that help, but they are inconsistent and underfunded.

“I believe that at the provincial and federal level (sic) there is a lack of consistency in access to different processes and practices in different areas, especially in rural areas where specific courts are used. One municipality or Indigenous community may have access to the specific restorative justice program, but if you go a few communities over they may not have any access to restorative justice.”

Youth need more support; prevention and early intervention is key.

Education and training are key components of success.

“People don't seem to know that type of stuff, especially when it comes to the residential school piece and how the government of Canada was part of that, as well as the following governments in regards to the provincial pieces. I think education is important in a way where it's presented to not only the general public, but as well as the staff. That includes police, corrections officers, as well as courts.”

Next Steps

The Wave 1 dialogues helped identify more targeted themes and objectives for the IJS. The following themes have been selected for further discussion during the Wave 2 dialogues: