TORONTO – A former Supreme Court of Canada justice delivers a report today on whether on-reserve aboriginals have been systematically excluded from Ontario’s juries.
The report by Frank Iacobucci comes more than 18 months after Ontario asked him to delve into the festering issue that at one point paralyzed jury proceedings — criminal, civil and inquest.
The years-long lack of aboriginals first came to light at coroner’s inquests in northern Ontario into the 2007 deaths of Jacy Pierre, who died in police custody, and teenager Reggie Bushie, who drowned.
In an affidavit in 2008, a court-operations supervisor said only 44 natives were being considered for jury selection in the Kenora district.
Aboriginals make up a large part of the population in the area but Ottawa had not provided the jury centre with band electoral lists in years.
The inquests and several criminal cases ground to a halt as the legal system began grappling with whether the rights of aboriginals had been trampled.
In court filings, the province insisted justice officials had done their best to ensure juries were representative, and blamed First Nations leaders for not co-operating.
For its part, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 communities spread out over an area covering two-thirds of Ontario, argued good intentions were irrelevant.
In August 2011, the province asked Iacobucci to review the jury-roll system and make recommendations to ensure proper representation for those living on reserves.