Working toward Reconciliation
A statement from Legal Aid Ontario
Published: September 28, 2023
On Sept. 30, Canadians will pause to observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Also known as Orange Shirt Day, it is an opportunity to acknowledge the painful legacy of the residential school system and the trauma experienced by survivors. This year, the day of observance will fall on Monday, Oct. 2.
At Legal Aid Ontario (LAO), we recognize the importance of remembering and grieving the children who died attending residential schools. The circumstances of these deaths are being investigated by the Survivors’ Secretariat. We honour the resilience of survivors, and we continue to reflect on the experiences and contributions of Indigenous peoples, their families and communities.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) presented 94 “Calls to Action” aimed at acknowledging this history and legacy, as well as addressing the systemic issues that allowed for abuse to flourish. On this occasion, LAO commits to an ongoing, active and robust effort to support the goals and spirit of the TRC’s Calls to Action. This means addressing the unique needs of our Indigenous clients and collaborating with others in the justice system across Ontario to better serve Indigenous clients.
All LAO’s divisions are working on initiatives to acknowledge and serve Indigenous communities across the province as part of our Aboriginal Justice Strategy. These include:
LAO announced plans to create an Indigenous Legal Services Department, under the Strategy and Public Affairs division. This will centralize and deliver legal aid services to Indigenous clients and advance our commitment to Reconciliation by delivering high quality, culturally safe and relevant services, and improving justice outcomes for Indigenous clients.
We entered new service agreements with Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services Corporation and Aboriginal Legal Services. LAO commits to collaborate with and support Indigenous led and focused justice organizations, as they provide the most appropriate, highest-quality legal services in local communities.
We announced the creation of Waawiye – The Circle, a unique, Indigenous-focused mentorship program for LAO employees. It supports the professional and personal growth of Indigenous staff members, creating an environment in which they feel supported. The first call for mentees will go out in October.
We introduced a mandatory training program called The Path: Your Journey through Indigenous Canada, for all LAO employees and the board of directors. It aims to increase our cultural awareness of Indigenous history and current issues faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada.
We funded various community legal clinics in the province that provide specialized Indigenous services such as improving access to justice, legal advice and assistance, public legal education, systems advocacy, and Gladue reports.
We continue to fully support, staff and recognize the importance of the role that Indigenous Peoples’ Courts play across the province.
An Indigenous consultant advised on inclusive, accessible design for LAO’s new provincial office space, including smudging capabilities in our multi-faith and mindfulness room and our Turtle Island boardroom. The guidance included shifting away from institutional, colonial aspects of design and advising on how to build a calm, natural environment.
LAO is committed to these and other initiatives, while recognizing that there is much more work to be done. I encourage you to take time on Sept. 30 and going forward, to reflect with humility, openness and a willingness to learn about the legacy of residential schools as well as on the strength and resilience of Indigenous peoples. LAO will continue to engage with Indigenous organizations and community members to foster equity, in the spirit of reconciliation and justice for all.
David Field, (he/him)
President & CEO
Legal Aid Ontario