The administration of justice includes a broad scope of functions related to the application of the legal system – such as legal orders, legal representation, prosecution, and the courts.
For millenia, First Nations had their own systems for the administration of justice, including legal orders and criminal justice institutions. Among the most damaging of colonial patterns has been efforts to marginalize and dismantle these functions. Concurrently, a common law justice system has been imposed that has long reflected and struggled with bias against Indigenous peoples. The end result is a contemporary reality where Indigenous peoples in British Columbia, and across Canada, are disproportionately and negatively impacted by the justice system, often with devastating consequences for individuals, families, communities, Nations, and society at large.
While constructive and important efforts have been made over many decades to improve the reality of the relationship of Indigenous peoples with the justice system, and some important steps taken, these efforts and achievements have never been comprehensive or transformative.
In this respect, the BC First Nations Justice Strategy represents a shift. It seeks to build upon efforts to date – such as First Nations Courts – and unite these within a transformative vision to both improve the current criminal justice and family law systems (Track 1), as well as support First Nations to reignite their ancestral legal traditions and systems (Track 2).
To advance the critical work in Track 2, a number of lines of action within the Strategy will support First Nations to re-establish their legal systems. This includes creating legislative and policy space to ensure First Nations systems are respected, such as through embedding administration of justice as a subject matter open for negotiations processes with the Crown, and reviewing existing provincial laws to allow for the recognition and operation of First Nations justice systems and institutions. It also includes efforts to provide resources and information to First Nations in the development of their justice systems and programming, through sharing a Guidebook describing leading practice amongst First Nations in this rebuilding work, and initiating a new long-term, sustainable, community-based justice programming fund.
Most of the lines of action within the BC First Nations Justice Strategy relate to Track 1 work to reform and increase the cultural safety of the justice system. These focus on three main topics:
- Improving access to welcoming, high-quality legal services for First Nations and other Indigenous people in BC. This involves establishing a network of Indigenous Justice Centres across the province; creating improved access to Gladue reports for Indigenous peoples; ensuring effective access to legal aid (particularly defense counsel) for Indigenous accused; and, further integration and development of First Nations Courts.
- Policy and practice changes that embed a presumption of diversion and help address overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the justice system and in corrections. This involves establishment of an independent oversight function regarding Indigenous peoples and the justice system, and establishing a new prosecution policy related to Indigenous peoples.
- Enhancing cultural safety within the justice system through training and education to reduce the impact of bias and improve cultural safety amongst all the players within the justice system. This will involve standardizing content and coordinating a process for implementation of training amongst prosecutors, Crown Counsel, and the courts.
All of the work in Track 1 and Track 2 is also supported by lines of action intended to increase the representation of Indigenous peoples in senior and decision-making roles and forums. This will include formalizing protocols between First Nations and Crown Counsel offices across the province, as well as increasing the number of First Nations people serving as prosecutors, judges, and community justice workers across both First Nations and non-First Nations justice systems.