Eyes on LAO

New brochure addresses access to justice issues

Posted on: Tuesday, May 12/09

Why it is important for Aboriginal people to self-identify to their lawyers

Two percent of Ontario's population is made up of Aboriginal people, yet they represent 22 per cent of inmates in both federal and provincial correctional institutes in the province.

As part of its Aboriginal Justice Strategy, LAO has produced a unique new brochure to address these and other access to justice issues. "Why is it important to identify yourself as Aboriginal to your lawyer" is aimed in part at addressing the problem of overrepresentation of Aboriginals in the Canadian criminal justice and prison systems.

The brochure explains why it is important for Aboriginal people to self-identify to their lawyers and give them the opportunity to explore alternatives and areas of law that deal with Aboriginal circumstances or rights.

For example, the Gladue court is designed to hear the cases involving Aboriginal defendants and propose sentences that are more in line with Aboriginal traditions than imprisonment.

Other considerations include:

  • The potential to be referred to other Aboriginal-specific justice programs
  • Whether any Indian Act provisions have implications on the legal matter (i.e. family law and matrimonial property on-reserve)
  • What landlord and tenant law issues may be involved when living on-reserve.

The Child and Family Services Act (CFSA) also has provisions for Aboriginal culture.

Extensive consultations took place with internal and external experts in order to make sure that the information contained in the brochure would be accessible, distinctive and appealing to Aboriginal clients.

The brochure was designed using colours, symbols and illustrations with special significance to Aboriginal cultures. Currently available in English and French, the brochure will eventually be translated into at least three Indigenous languages, including Cree, Oji-Cree and Anishinabewomin (Ojibwe).

LAO's Aboriginal Justice Strategy is focused on developing a three-to-five year plan to achieve measurable improvements in Legal Aid Ontario's services to Aboriginal people, with specific options and recommendations to enhance legal aid services.

About the identifier

The unique graphic identifier on the "Why is it important to identify yourself as Aboriginal to your lawyer" brochure was designed by Aboriginal artist//designer David Shilling of MAAIINGAN Productions. Here in his own words is a description of what the graphic identifier symbolizes:

Aboriginal Brochure Identifier The bird represents the treaty relationship that exists between Canada and First Nations people. Often times these treaties were signed using pictures of animals which represented specific people, nations and clans.

As an Aboriginal person, these treaties are important to me in understanding our rights, they celebrate our past and provide direction for our future. As non-Aboriginal people the treaties are an important reminder of how significant our contribution is to this country, how important these treaties are in ensuring a positive, healthy future for this country, and most of all these treaties depict clearly the obligation Canada has to the First Peoples.

The bird is also a fire, and each or its three flames represent nations within the Three Fires Confederacy, which are the Ojibway, Odawa and Potowatomi. These three nations are known as the Anishnawbek Nation. The colours are meant to represent the Medicine Wheel, the four directions, and Unity between the four the colours of man; Red, Yellow, Black and White.

The black flames found within the yellow wings of the bird represent hands offering support, while the fire in the centre represents justice.

Where the wing and beak converge, a circle is created representing Mother Earth and the obligation we all have to her.