By Lloyd Dolha
The Commission on First Nations and Métis Peoples and Justice Reform released its final report on Monday, June 21, 2004.
Commission Chair Willie Littlechild said the report contains a number of recommendations designed to return justice to First Nations and Métis communities.
“It’s obvious to the commission that there is no better place to find solutions to the problems facing First Nations and Métis people than in their own communities,” said Littlechild. “Justice must be transformed to incorporate First Nations and Métis culture, traditions and beliefs.”
The two year $2.8 million investigation into the Saskatchewan justice system found that anti-native racism exists throughout the provincial police force creating an environment of mistrust between aboriginal people and the Saskatchewan police.
The commission’s final report, entitled Legacy of Hope, comprised two volumes and makes 122 recommendations that suggest a number of ways to combat racism in policing such as better screening procedures, training programs for officers who exhibit racist attitudes and a proactive strategy to recruit First Nations and Métis into the police force.
Some of the other recommendations include:
- * an independent complaints agency for First Nations, Métis and non-aboriginal people to be in place by April 1, 2005;
- the establishment of a “therapeutic court” to deal with issues such as addictions, family violence and fetal alcohol syndrome;
the immediate construction of emergency detox centres in Saskatoon, Regina, Prince Albert and La Ronge;
- greater involvement of the community in screening cases before charges are laid to allow Crown prosecutors to consider whether a case can be better dealt with by the community instead of the justice system;
- consideration of sentencing alternatives with input from First Nations and Metis elders;
- and, a provincial study on why the incarceration rate is so high among aboriginal youth and a strategy to reduce that rate by March 31, 2005.
Notably absent from the release of the report were representatives of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations – one of the prime motivators for the commission.
In a press release the following day, the FSIN said the report falls far short of what Saskatchewan First Nations had hoped for.
“It is important to remember that it was treaty First Nations individuals who were found frozen to death outside of Saskatoon and it was those deaths that sparked this commission,” said FSIN vice chief Lawrence Joseph.
“We cannot and should not forget that it was First Nations leaders in this province who insisted that the commission be created to examine the relationship between First Nations and the justice system so that the sacrifice of those lives would have meaning.”
According to the FSIN, the report falls short of their expectations in a number of ways:
- it focuses on improvements to existing programs or the implementation of new programs rather than the actual reform of the justice system;
- it recommends initiatives that are “aboriginal” in nature that include both Métis and non-aboriginals without acknowledging the distinct status of treaty people;
- and, it does not address the constitutional treaty right of First Nations to the inherent right to self government.
Joseph said that the report contains a number of useful recommendations that will improve the administration of the provincial justice system in the short term, but makes no clear recommendations regarding long-term solutions or real reforms to address the root causes of the unacceptably high interaction between First Nations people and the justice system.
“We have no choice but to try and extract the applicable short-term solutions that will benefit our First Nations communities and continue to work on implementing our own solutions,” said Joseph.