Working Toward Reconciliation

Published: September 29, 2022

A statement from Legal Aid Ontario

On Sept. 30, Canadians will pause to acknowledge the painful legacy of the Indian Residential Schools system, mourn the thousands of children who never made it home, and support Survivors. Recognizing that reconciliation is an ongoing process that requires unwavering commitment and meaningful action, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) commemorates the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by reaffirming its commitment to fulfilling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released 94 Calls to Action, outlining a path to repair the harm caused by residential schools and work towards reconciliation. Appropriately, a number of these focus on the justice community and relate specifically to the overrepresentation and mistreatment of Indigenous people in the prison and child welfare systems.

LAO has a critical role to play in initiating and sustaining systemic change in the justice system. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action continue to guide LAO’s efforts to better understand and address the needs of Indigenous clients, which include:

  • Seeking knowledge and advice from Indigenous communities to expand our understanding of their unique needs and to remove barriers for Indigenous people seeking our services. See the “Relationships First, Business Later: Part I” consultation report to learn more.  

  • Providing all LAO staff with comprehensive Indigenous cultural intelligence training, which includes educational information about the historical experiences of Indigenous people and the legacy of their oppression.

  • Participating in the creation of Child Protection Indigenous People’s Courts and providing legal aid certificates to Indigenous families who financially qualify involved in the child welfare system to help reduce the number of Indigenous children in care. This coverage includes special consideration for customary care agreements and Indigenous dispute resolutions processes. 

  • Helping to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in custody by expanding access to legal aid services for both Indigenous youth and adults. 

  • Establishing a specialized Gladue roster and offering added coverage for lawyers who introduce Gladue reports at court on behalf of their Indigenous clients. 

  • Recognizing Indigenous justice systems, including alternative dispute resolution and community justice initiatives, and supporting their operation through funding and duty counsel participation at Indigenous People’s Courts.

  • Seeking the advice of independent experts regarding how to improve LAO’s organizational structure to better serve Indigenous clients, and how to improve Gladue report writing services.

These are just some of the ways in which LAO is working toward reconciliation. We believe these initiatives will help facilitate change and support Indigenous people as they advocate for equity and continue to work toward healing. A comprehensive list of existing and planned initiatives is available on our website.

There is more work to be done. Our ongoing engagement with Indigenous organizations and community members will continue to focus and guide our work to foster equity in principle and practice. LAO is committed to seeing this change through in the spirit of reconciliation and justice for all.

Miigwetch,

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