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Ontario picks panel to improve First Nations presence on juries

Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, will be co-chair of an Ontario panel to improve First Nations representation on the province’s juries.


The Ontario government will move forward with a plan to get more First Nations people on to jury rolls, naming a committee of aboriginal leaders and public servants to lead the push.

Last winter, a review by former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci found that First Nations people are underrepresented in provincial juries. To fix the problem, he recommended that the government use a wider range of data – including the provincial health-care database – to generate lists of prospective jurors.

Mr. Iacobucci also urged the province to appoint a committee to make sure his recommendations were implemented.

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On Thursday, Attorney-General John Gerretsen unveiled that panel and promised that all of Mr. Iacobucci's suggestions would be followed.

"In this room, we are making sure that genuine positive action is taken to address the issue of First Nations representation on juries, and building a justice system for all Ontarians that better serves First Nations people," Mr. Gerretsen told a packed press conference at a Toronto hotel. "The government will not put this report on a shelf – we want to see action."

The committee will be co-chaired by Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, and Irwin Glasberg, an assistant deputy attorney-general. Its members will include judges, civil servants, First Nations leaders and lawyers. It was scheduled to begin work in earnest, with a first meeting set for Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Fiddler said the group will push ahead with major reforms.

"We're committed to making positive, substantive change to the system," he said. "The problems that Justice Iacobucci talked about in his report are very real, and it will not take just minor tinkering here and there to fix it."

Mr. Iacobucci's report also recommended that the government provide justice education programs for First Nations and give cultural training to officials in the court system. He also urged the government to create a new assistant deputy attorney-general position to specifically oversee aboriginal issues.

At the launch of the committee, Mr. Iacobucci praised its composition as striking a good balance.

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"It conveys an important message for the roles of government and First Nations," he said.

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