Statement by LAO CEO David Field for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day, 2021

Published: September 29, 2021

Like so many Canadians, I continue to grapple with the enormity of the repeated discoveries of remains at the sites of former Residential Schools across Canada. Legal Aid Ontario believes it is important to acknowledge, mourn and honour the precious lives that have been lost to the residential school system and the continued impacts this system has had on all Indigenous communities.

Tomorrow, we mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day. It is an important opportunity to confront ugly truths about Canada’s history and to reflect on how we must be better allies to Indigenous Peoples as we move forward. It is imperative that we as individuals, as an organization, and as a country recognize and collectively act to address the ongoing impact of this history and the destructive effects of continued colonial policies and practices.

LAO recently published its initial consultation report of its Aboriginal Justice Strategy. The report has made me realize that there is so much for us to do to ensure that Indigenous Peoples in Ontario have full access to the justice system, including:

  • Mitigating barriers to accessing justice
  • Ensuring Indigenous representation at LAO and in LAO’s advisory systems
  • Improving legal services and supporting Indigenous justice processes
  • Helping bring about culturally appropriate and informed legal services

There are important efforts in the justice system in Ontario that I hope will continue to grow and develop in the coming days, such as Indigenous Peoples Courts, which incorporate appropriate Indigenous practices and supports in sentencing. Or Customary Care, which places children considered to be in need of protection with alternative caregivers in conjunction with First Nation Band Councils and child protection agencies. There are other things we should look to doing, including trauma-informed training for legal aid staff, Crowns, lawyers and the judiciary, and self-care support for Indigenous staff.

Six years ago this December, the National Truth and Reconciliation commission set out 94 calls to action. These calls to action were not just for institutions, they were for everyone. Tomorrow is a day for us as individuals, and as actors in Ontario’s justice system, to reflect, and to commit to meaningful change.

One remark from a press conference last summer by Cadmus Delorme, the Chief of the Cowessess First Nation has stayed with me. He asked that Canadians “Stand by us as we heal and we get stronger… put down ignorance and unacknowledged racism.” May we do this not just tomorrow, but every day.

David Field (he/him)
President & CEO
Legal Aid Ontario