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Ontario sets up panel to tackle justice system 'crisis' for First Nations

TORONTO - A top aboriginal leader will co-chair a panel that will oversee implementation of recommendations aimed at tackling the crisis facing First Nations in Ontario's justice and jury system, the province announced Friday.

Attorney General John Gerretsen said Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, will lead the panel along with Irwin Glasberg, an assistant deputy minister.

The committee was the first of 17 recommendations made by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci in February.

"I look forward to working with the Ministry of the Attorney General to ensure that the recommendations of Justice Iacobucci's report are implemented in a way that truly addresses the crisis of First Nations in the justice system,'' Fiddler said.

"We are taking positive steps to ensure that all First Nations can exercise their right to serve on juries and to ensure that there is a path forward to achieving justice for First Nations.''

Iacobucci was asked to look into the lack of First Nations representation on juries but in his report found the problem went well beyond that issue.

It found aboriginals experience "systemic discrimination'' when it comes to criminal justice or child services and the courts - especially in the north.

"Access to justice, the administration of justice, the availability and quality of legal services, the treatment of First Nations peoples in the justice system all are wanting in northern Ontario,'' Iacobucci said.

His first recommendation called for an implementation-oversight committee with "substantial'' First Nations membership to deal with a problem he called urgent.

The committee, which is expected to have 11 or fewer members, will also include other aboriginal leaders and public servants, as well as a youth representative and others in the justice sector.

The aim is to have it set up by the end of summer.

"Deputy Grand Chief Fiddler's expertise and passion for improving our justice system in aboriginal communities make him a tremendous asset to the implementation committee,'' Gerretsen said in his announcement on National Aboriginal Day.

"By working together as partners, I'm confident we can find timely and effective solutions to address the under-representation of First Nations people on juries.''

Other recommendations called for cultural training for officials in the justice system in contact with aboriginals, and using databases, such as health records, to find on-reserve residents for jury rolls.

Last week, Ontario's top court ordered a new trial for a convicted killer because it found the province violated his rights by failing to ensure aboriginals were properly represented on jury rolls.

The years-long under-representation of First Nations came to light at coroner's inquests in northern Ontario into the 2007 deaths of two aboriginals.

© 2013 The Canadian Press

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