Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 30: Justice (25-42)

Northeastern Ontario gets its first Indigenous Peoples Court

May 2, 2024

The goal is to address First Nation overrepresentation in correctional facilities

People sitting in a courtroom.
An opening ceremony was held in courtroom B in the Ontario Court of Justice building in Sudbury on Monday.(Aya Dufour/CBC News)

CBC Indigenous: An Ontario court of Justice courtroom in Sudbury was filled to the brink on Thursday for the opening ceremony of the region’s first Indigenous Peoples Court. 

Lawyers, judges, members of First Nations and the public all took part in the event, marking the beginning of a court that will offer specialized legal, cultural and social services to Indigenous offenders. 

Sudbury jail’s Indigenous liaison officer Keith Chapman has been advocating for this initiative for almost a decade. 

“Every day, I see the need for this court,” he said. “It was a mission to have these individuals represented properly.” 

Portrait of a man
Keith Chapman has worked as the Indigenous liason officer for the Sudbury jail for almost 15 years. (Aya Dufour/CBC)

He says incarceration is not the way Anishnaabe people carry out justice, and this is a major reason for the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in correctional facilities.

According to Department of Justice Canada data, 32 per cent of the prison population is made up of Indigenous people, despite them representing 5 per cent of the total population. 

Indigenous Peoples Court explores alternatives to incarceration that draw on restorative justice principles. 

It also offers sentencing circles, where lawyers, judges, the offender and their community members sit together to share their experiences and perspectives before proceeding to sentencing. 

“The people that come before these courts often feel they have an opportunity to be heard more than they are heard in the traditional court process,” said Sharon Nicklas, chief judge of the Ontario Court of Justice. 

Better outcomes for Indigenous offenders

Criminal defense lawyer Michael Haraschuk says these courts often lead to better outcomes for Indigenous offenders. 

He says everybody has the opportunity to provide their input, and the lawyers and judges get a better understanding of the offender’s story, background, community and the support they have access to. 

Portrait of a man.
Michael Haraschuk is the director of the Sudbury region for the Criminal Lawyers Association. (Aya Dufour/CBC)

“It’s more of a holistic approach to sentencing,” he said. 

“It’s demanded by the Criminal Code that all other sanctions except jail need to be considered. So this is a really great, culturally sensitive and appropriate forum to explore those other options.” 

The Indigenous Peoples Court in Sudbury will offer some trial management services, but will mostly focus on sentencing. 

It is the 20th court of this type to open in Ontario. 

When asked why Sudbury wasn’t one of the first places to get these kinds of services – considering the size of the local Indigenous community – Nicklas said it took time to secure the required committees and wrap around services. 


Aya Dufour, reporter

Aya Dufour is a CBC reporter based in northern Ontario. She welcomes comments, ideas, criticism, jokes and compliments: