The general director of the Regroupement des centers d'amitié autochtones du Québec (RCAAQ), Tanya Sirois.  Photo: Radio-Canada

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The general director of the Regroupement des centers d’amitié autochtones du Québec (RCAAQ), Tanya Sirois. Photo: Radio-Canada

$ 14.1 million to improve access to justice for Aboriginals, that is what Quebec City announced on Monday. This responds to some recommendations of the Viens commission report. Long-term, Ghislain Picard would like an aboriginal person to be appointed as a Supreme Court judge.

With this sum, Quebec wishes to further promote Aboriginal community justice and fight against the over-representation of the first peoples in the justice system, including prisons in particular.

Tanya Sirois, Executive Director of the Regroupement des centers d’amitié autochtones du Québec, was also present during this announcement. She underlined the right direction Quebec is taking.

$ 14.1 million to do what?

This envelope corresponds to an investment over four years and is broken down into three measures.

The first measure will fund community justice programs in urban areas, mainly through Native Friendship Centers.

The second supports the deployment of new justice committees in Indigenous communities and the third will help improve Gladue report writing services for Indigenous offenders. The Gladue reports favor a restorative rather than a purely repressive approach.

The announcement made by Simon Jolin-Barrette, the Minister of Justice of Quebec, and Ian Lafreniere, Minister responsible for Native Affairs, should make it possible, according to her, to fight against the over-judicialization of Native people in the province.

A reality that also exists across the entire country.

Over-representation in prisons

According to the chef Ghislain Picard, president of the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, the Aboriginals represent one in four inmates in penitentiaries, while they only account for a little less than 5% of the population according to the last census from 2016.

In 2018-2019, Radio-Canada advanced the figure at 31% in provincial and territorial institutions and 29% in federal penitentiaries.

Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec and Labrador (APNAL).  Photo: Radio-Canada

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Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec and Labrador (APNAL). Photo: Radio-Canada

While also underlining the government’s goodwill, Mr. Picard wished to point out that solutions must be found in the long term. “The justice project is very vast,” he said, while recalling that the federal government also has a role to play.

The idea is to “recognize restorative justice and alternative measures to accommodate what people know and recognize. For them, it makes a big change. It is important to recognize a person’s path before imposing a sanction, ”added Mr. Lafrenière.

This envelope “will, among other things, make it possible to equip the justice system with the consideration of certain issues specific to indigenous populations, so that it can systematically make enlightened decisions”, indicated Mr. Lafrenière.

Indigenous justice?

Without speaking of a dual justice system, one made for non-Aboriginals, the other for Aboriginals, Mr. Picard explained that certain aboriginal approaches to justice must be put forward more frequently.

“The justice system should adapt to our realities, rather than the other way around. This is the moment that we allow the justice system to develop programs that are specific to Aboriginals with concepts that belong to them, ”he said.

Mr. Picard believes that it is necessary to find a way to “reduce discrimination and systemic racism within the Barreau du Québec by allowing Aboriginal people to hold legal positions and not close the door to a magistracy that is indigenous ”.

And why not, one day, find an Aboriginal person on the benches of the Supreme Court? believes Chief Picard.