Assembly of First Nations
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the May 24 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R v. Barton includes some positive steps but reinforces the need for fundamental changes to Canada's legal system to ensure fairness and dignity for Indigenous women and girls, and respect for First Nations approaches to justice.
"I agree with the statement in today's decision that 'we can – and must – do better' to address the failings of the justice system when it comes to Indigenous women and girls," said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde. "The decision includes some important changes to the law, notably instructions that judges must provide to juries in cases of sexual assault involving Indigenous women. Canada's highest court is acknowledging the prejudices and biases against Indigenous women and girls, and the need for reform. I am disappointed that the case is being sent back for re-trial on the reduced charge of manslaughter. We will continue to push for fundamental change in the justice system to embrace First Nations approaches like restorative justice and respect for our peoples and rights."
The Assembly of First Nations was an intervenor in R v. Barton. The AFN intervened in support of justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and for more respectful treatment of Indigenous women in the justice system. Bradley Barton was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Cindy Gladue in June 2011 and a jury acquitted him following a month-long trial in 2015. In its submissions, the Assembly of First Nations argued the importance of the mandatory requirements of s. 276 of the Criminal Code to protect the equality and privacy rights of a victim, and the necessity for fair and balanced instructions to the juries regarding racial biases. The Assembly of First Nations also argued that the characterizations of Cindy Gladue during the trial perpetuated myths and stereotypes about Indigenous women that should not form any part of Canadian law.
"The lives of Indigenous peoples must be valued and we need to fix the broken systems that consistently suggests our lives are worth less than others," said Assembly of First Nations British Columbia Regional Chief Terry Teegee who holds the justice portfolio with the Assembly of First Nations. "First Nations are underrepresented on juries and over-represented in jails. This is why we continue to push for the support and implementation of restorative justice and to increase the representation of Indigenous people on juries and in the judiciary. We want all Canadians to stand with us in this work."
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nation citizens in Canada. Follow Assembly of First Nations on Twitter @AFN_Updates.