Government Commitments

Government Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation

Alberta provincial court releases Indigenous Justice Strategy

September 28, 2022

The Indigenous Justice Strategy aims to ensure Alberta judges and staff have a clear understanding of Indigenous history, heritage and laws, as well as establishing Indigenous cultural practices in court. But as Morgan Black explains, some critics say it’s a band-aid solution to a systemic issue.

Global News (Canadian Press): Alberta’s provincial court has announced a plan outlining ways it can better serve Indigenous people. The Indigenous Justice Strategy announced Wednesday by Chief Judge Derek Redman follows two years of discussions with First Nations and Métis leaders, as well as legal groups.

“The one thing that we did not want was another report,” Redman said. “What we wanted was an action document.”

It includes 20 measures such as ensuring judges and staff have a comprehensive understanding of Indigenous history, heritage and laws, as well as establishing Indigenous cultural practices in courthouses and courtrooms where appropriate.

READ MORE: ‘Education is the key’: Why reconciliation needs to start with students

The strategy incorporates some steps the court had already been taking, Redman said. He said the strategy is meant to address the lack of access Indigenous people have to the courts, the lack of confidence they have in the justice system, the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in pre- and post-trial custody and the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care.

It also aims to address several calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, such as:

  • ensuring lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training and
  • providing more support for Indigenous programming in halfway houses, parole services and relevant services to inmates.

Meetings are to be held annually between court leadership, leaders of Treaties 6, 7 and 8, and leaders of the Metis Nation of Alberta and Metis settlements to maintain relationships and address community needs.

Redman said this was the strategy’s most important measure. “I think it begins with relationships and learning,” he said. Redman’s advisers on the strategy included three Indigenous judges who emphasized the importance of education. “The court needs to be educated about the needs, the history, the culture of Indigenous persons,” he said.

“We do a lot of that, but we are challenging ourselves to do it in a more thoughtful, comprehensive way.”

Marlene Orr, chief executive officer of Native Counselling Services of Alberta, said the work felt deeply meaningful. “There’s a recognition in this strategy that Indigenous people have had their own traditional justice systems and that that may look very different from what we see in the courts,” she said. “It looks exciting.”

Richard Mirasty is an Indigenous criminal defence lawyer in Edmonton. He feels the plan — though a noble endeavour — won’t have much of an impact on a larger problem that he sees in his practice every day. “It’s a band-aid solution on a much larger issue,” he said, adding there are systemic issues that need to be addressed before people even get to the courtroom.

“It’s the whole issue of Indigenous peoples being marginalized. Again, it’s no accident that upwards of 90 per cent of people on any given day in a courtroom in Edmonton are Indigenous people. Why is that? That’s what needs to be resolved.”

The announcement comes two days before the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Redman, who was appointed as Chief Judge in 2020, is from Lethbridge, Alta., and has been practising law since the early ’80s.

The Calgary Indigenous Court was established in 2019, encompassing many of the steps included in the Indigenous Justice Strategy. The provincial court in Edmonton has been operating its Indigenous courtroom since the spring but will hold an official ceremony on Friday morning.