'No place' for racism in justice system, minister says
Published Sunday, February 18, 2018 7:00AM EST
OTTAWA -- Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says she’s determined to rid Canada’s criminal justice system of racism.
“There is no place in this country for racism, discrimination, bias of any sort in the criminal justice system or otherwise, and I will be vigilant in terms of insuring that that doesn’t exist,” she said in an interview with CTV Question Period host Evan Solomon.
Wilson-Raybould said that people “marching in the streets” after Gerald Stanley’s acquittal in the death of 22-year-old Cree man Colton Boushie demonstrated that people are concerned with the current state of Canadian courts.
“I think that racism is something that we have to consider, that exists, that there are systemic challenges within the justice system, in terms of different peoples’ perspectives, racism, bias, discrimination,” she said. “This is what I view people that have been marching in the streets since the verdict last week, are coming out to talk about.”
The Attorney General and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took political heat last week over what the opposition characterized as “political interference” by taking to social media to comment that the justice system can “do better,” in response to Stanley’s acquittal by a jury with no visibly Indigenous members.
Though, Wilson-Raybould denies their comments took things too far, saying she “felt compelled” to say something.
“Following the lead of the Prime Minister, I acknowledged and recognized the angst and the emotion and the trauma that the Boushie family was feeling, and beyond that, Canadians right across the country. My comments were specifically about the justice system and the injustice in that system as it relates to Indigenous peoples,” she said.
“I in no way was questioning the decision of the jury,” she said. “I think it is incumbent upon me to respond to the lives and experiences of individuals and keep a constant vigilance in terms of the wellbeing of the justice system.”
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government’s intention to create a legal framework to protect the rights of Indigenous people in Canada, during a take-note debate on the experience of Indigenous Peoples within Canada’s justice system.
The special debate came on the heels Boushie’s family meeting with federal ministers to discuss potential justice reforms.
Wilson-Raybould discussed potential changes the federal government is considering to the Criminal Code, including around jury selection by removing peremptory challenges.
“Marginalized individuals including Indigenous communities, black Canadians, other marginalized groups have not seen themselves in the justice system, have not played an active role in the justice system and so this is a comprehensive way in which we have to ensure that individuals are involved,” she said.
Though, Pam Palmater, associate professor and chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, said on CTV’s Question Period that jury selection won’t fix the fundamental problem.
“Unless we get at the root of it, fixing around the edges… is not going to cut it,” Palmater said.
Wilson-Raybould also said she is confident that “at some point in the not too distant future” an Indigenous person will be named to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Consent doesn’t mean a veto: Wilson-Raybould
As for the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) -- which means requiring “free, prior and informed consent” before the approval of natural resource development -- Wilson-Raybould said to her, consent doesn’t mean a “veto” on projects.
“Consent is not equated to a veto,” she said. “We will make better decisions when we involve Indigenous peoples and Indigenous jurisdiction in decision making as we move towards consensus-based decision making, which doesn’t mean everybody agrees, but we have to actually put in place a process that respects the decision-making power of each of the parties.”
Palmater saw things differently, arguing the Liberal’s position is not consistent with current law.
“In what alternate universe does consent not require you to say yes or no? In every other context in society and in law, and in contracts, consent means you get to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Only in the case of Indigenous peoples does it mean something else,” she said.