Addressing systemic racism against Indigenous peoples in the justice system: Government of Canada investments and initiatives


June 30, 2021 – Ottawa, Ontario – Department of Justice Canada

The Government of Canada is taking action to address the systemic racism and systemic barriers faced by Indigneous peoples in Canada’s legal system. The following initiatives and investments would help support the Government of Canada’s ongoing efforts to advance reconciliation and address the systemic factors that contribute the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the justice system.

Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act received Royal Assent and came into force in Canada on June 21, 2021. Developed with Indigenous peoples, this Act creates a legislative framework to implement the Declaration in Canada. It requires the Government of Canada, in consultation and collaboration with Indigenous peoples, to take all measures necessary to align federal laws with the Declaration, develop an action plan to achieve the Declaration’s objectives and report annually to Parliament on the progress to align laws and the action plan.

The action plan, which must be developed in collaboration with Indigenous peoples in two years, will include measures to:

  • address injustices, combat prejudice and eliminate all forms of violence, racism and discrimination against Indigenous peoples
  • promote mutual respect and understanding, as well as good relations, including through human rights education
  • ensure Canada is held accountable on progress through regular reporting and oversight

As the next step, the Government of Canada will engage with Indigenous partners to identify priorities for the action plan and measures for aligning federal laws with the Declaration over time.

Reforming harmful sentencing measures to reduce overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system

Existing sentencing policies have focused on punishment through imprisonment, and they disproportionately affect Indigenous peoples, as well as Black and marginalized Canadians. Bill C-22 proposes amendments to the Criminal Code and to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to ensure that responses to criminal conduct are fairer and more effective, while ensuring that public safety is maintained. Some of the proposed amendments would repeal mandatory minimum penalties (MMPs) that are associated with the overincarceration of Indigneous peoples, Black Canadians and marginalized populations.

Supporting engagement with Indigenous communities on shared justice-related priorities

Continued engagement and collaboration with Indigenous partners on shared priorities will ensure that policies and programs are informed by the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada. The Government’s commitment to advancing this work was reflected in Budget 2021, which proposed $24.2 million over 3 years in new funding for Justice Canada to support engagement with Indigenous communities and organizations on the development of legislation and initiatives that address systemic barriers in the criminal justice system. This includes collaboration on an Indigenous justice strategy.

Reviving the Law Commission of Canada

Through the release of Budget 2021, the Government of Canada announced investments of $18 million over 5 years, and $4 million ongoing to revive the Law Commission of Canada to support, among other things, the work to address the systemic barriers faced by Indigneous peoples in accessing justice, as victims, offenders, and families.

Supporting Indigenous families involved with the family justice system

Through the release of Budget 2021, the Government of Canada announced investments of $27.1 million to support Indigenous families in navigating the family justice system, as well as those looking for community-based family mediation services. These investments will support Indigenous-led, culturally appropriate supports to families who are navigating the court system as well as those requiring mediation services. This will help ensure equity and reduce the effects of systemic racism within the justice system.

Improving collection and use of justice-related data

Through the release of Budget 2021, the Government of Canada announced an investment of $6.7 million over 5 years and an ongoing annual investment of $1.4 million to improve the collection and use of data. This is part of ongoing efforts to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples and racialized groups in the justice system. This investment will support the use of advanced analytics so that we can better tailor interventions and improve social outcomes for different groups of people. Having a better understanding of those who interact with the justice system will support the Government’s efforts to ensure that more people get the help they need when and where they need it.

Supporting self-determination of Indigenous peoples through Administration of Justice Agreements

To strengthen community-based justice systems and support self-determination, the 2020 Fall Economic Statement proposed investments to support the development of Administration of Justice Agreements with Indigenous communities. Recognizing the need for increased capacity to respond to demand from Indigenous communities in this area, the Government of Canada is providing $8.1 million to the Department of Justice Canada to support negotiations of Administration of Justice Agreements with communities.

Implementing Impact of Race and Culture Assessments (IRCAs)

The Government of Canada’s investment of $6.6 million over five years, and $1.6 million of ongoing funding, would support the implementation of IRCAs, which allow sentencing judges to consider the disadvantages and systemic racism that contributed to racialized Canadians’ interactions with the criminal justice system.

Supporting Community Justice Centres (CJCs)

Community Justice Centres are an innovative approach for moving justice out of the traditional courtroom, and into a community setting. CJCs bring together justice, health, employment, education and social services to collectively address the root cause of crime, break the cycle of offending, and improve public safety and community well-being. Through the integration of culturally appropriate services, CJCs can help decrease the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples and Black Canadians in the criminal justice system, and provide solutions to systemic issues. The Government of Canada investment of $28.6 million over five years would support Community Justice Centres pilot projects in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario as well as consultations to expand the Community Justice Centre concept to other provinces and territories.

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