Relationships First, Business Later: LAO publishes Part I of Aboriginal Justice Strategy consultation report

Published: June 29, 2021

After thoughtful, thorough consultation with Indigenous stakeholders, the Aboriginal Justice Strategy (AJS) at Legal Aid Ontario is publishing Relationships First, Business Later, Part I, of a consultation report on the AJS’s and LAO’s effectiveness in the delivery of legal aid services to Indigenous clients in Ontario.

It is vital for us to be the most effective ally to Indigenous People as possible and we are taking urgent action to address key insights in Part I of the report including:

  • Mitigating barriers to accessing justice
  • Indigenous representation at LAO and in LAO’s advisory systems
  • Improving legal services and supporting Indigenous justice processes
  • Culturally appropriate and informed legal services

Part 2 to follow consultation Nishnawbe‑Aski Legal Services Corporation and Nishnawbe‑Aski Nation communities

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not yet been possible to meaningfully consult Nishnawbe‑Aski Legal Services Corporation (NALSC) and communities in Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) territory. For this reason, the AJS and LAO are initially only releasing Part I of the report that is based on feedback from more than 60 Indigenous communities and organizations across the rest of the province. Once public health conditions permit, and NALSC and communities within NAN territory extend us an invitation, consultations there will resume. Following these, Relationships First, Business Later: Part II can be compiled and published and focus on the unique needs of the NAN territory with recommendations specific to those needs.

20 recommendations in Part I

Twenty recommendations in Part I of the report will help guide LAO’s approach to services and initiatives relating to Indigenous clients.

Part I is the result of consultations with Indigenous communities, political organizations, service providers and legal aid users that began in 2019. LAO has begun work to improve relationships with Indigenous clients and communities we serve and to address key issues raised in Part I. These include strengthening LAO’s recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ unique status, increasing meaningful Indigenous organizational representation to address perceived tokenism, increasing commitment to providing responsive and culturally appropriate services and supports, as well as enhancing the quality of lawyer representation and more.

“LAO recognizes and affirms our commitment to being an effective ally to Indigenous People, families and communities across Ontario. We are committed to ensuring that LAO delivers the highest quality of legal services to Indigenous clients and recognizes the importance of collaboration with Indigenous communities, stakeholders and service providers to accomplish this.” said CEO and President David Field.

Rebecca Hammond, AJS Policy Counsel said, “We are committed to working in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, the federal and provincial governments to eliminate overrepresentation of Indigenous youth and adults in prison and in the context of child welfare in accordance with Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice. Chi miigwetch to Indigenous communities, stakeholder and service providers for the work that they continue to do for Indigenous people in the legal system. Chi miigwetch for your honesty and your commitment to holding LAO and the AJS accountable to the people they serve.”

For more information, please contact Legal Aid Ontario’s Aboriginal Justice Strategy

Land acknowledgement

Legal Aid Ontario recognizes that our work and the work of our community partners takes place on traditional Indigenous territories across Ontario. We are thankful to be able to work and live in these territories. We are thankful to the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people who have cared for these territories since time immemorial and who continue to contribute to the strength of Ontario and to all communities across the province.

Legal Aid Ontario would also like to acknowledge that our Provincial Office in Toronto is located on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples. We also acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit.

LAO stands in solidarity with residential school survivors, the spirits of those children that never made it home, their families and their communities.