This opinion piece is by André Bear, a recent graduate law student, former Youth Representative of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and Co-Chair of the Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council.
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I recently graduated from law school and officially entered the Canadian legal system, where I will begin my articling at a firm in Toronto.
Like many law students, I started this journey believing that I could make a difference by standing up for those who are still waiting to be heard. Nevertheless, even before law school, I was taught that Canadian law is concrete and change is incredibly slow, no matter what lawyer you become or what positions you might hold.
This became more evident when Jody Wilson-Raybould became Canada’s first Indigenous Attorney General. She faced endless challenges as an Indigenous woman and was eventually removed from the Liberal caucus before she could make a real difference in Canadian law.
Indigenous peoples have been disproportionately harmed by the Canadian justice system since the founding of our country. Violent settler colonialism and systemic racism are well documented in almost every area of law.
To be clear, law school does not teach you how to make a difference in Canadian law.
It indoctrinates you to perpetuate the religious principles of punishment and deterrence. Punishing people who break the law will deter them from committing further crimes — this remains the fundamental doctrine of the Canadian justice system.
From time to time, a few professors would talk about this alternative system called “restorative justice,” and how it had been proven to change the lives of offenders, victims, and entire communities.
They would point to examples like Norway, which has the lowest recidivism rate (people who re-offend) in the world, and a prison system that actually benefits the economy because inmates get a higher education and learn skills and trades while incarcerated.
Make no mistake, the current Attorney General of Canada, David Lametti, has made several attempts to promote restorative justice by funding programs and ending mandatory minimum sentences with Bill C-5.
The most historic step to improve the Canadian legal system to date was the passage of Bill C-15, an action plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, guaranteeing that all laws in Canada are consistent with Aboriginal rights to self-government. and self-determination.
This was an important step towards the recognition of indigenous rights, but even more towards the recognition of indigenous rights.
As an aspiring lawyer, I consider this one of the most important moments in our history.
If we can take this opportunity to establish an Indigenous legal system in Canada, it could end the excessive incarceration of our people and widespread systemic racism.
For decades, there have been countless reports and studies on how to approach these issues. They were all ignored.
Sometimes I believe that if we created an indigenous legal system, Canada would not have anyone to incarcerate.
Now that Indigenous rights to self-government and self-determination will be recognized, Indigenous courts that enforce Indigenous laws that are the basis of restorative justice, healing and redemption must be established.
This may be what Canada needs to inspire the evolution of a destructive and unsustainable system. Because it’s not just Indigenous people who suffer in the justice system.
This includes all judges, lawyers, court workers and correctional officers who are overworked, overburdened and often traumatized by a faulty system that only perpetuates harm instead of preventing it.
Healing and redemption
Canadian offenders are still waiting for their chance at healing and redemption.
Hopefully, when Indigenous Courts are established, it will inspire transformative change towards restorative justice, healing and redemption in the Canadian legal system.
Now more than ever, this society could use our ancestral legal knowledge of how to live sustainably with the land and harmoniously with each other.
However, this knowledge no longer needs to be acknowledged by words, thanks or symbols. Indigenous ancestral knowledge now has the force of law.
I will never forget the words of the late Harold Johnson, a legendary Indigenous lawyer who was once asked to establish an Indigenous legal system.
“It can’t be worse than what we have now.”
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