The relationship between the justice system and the Métis people of Ontario is a fraught one. Discrimination, mistreatment, improper conduct, and bias from law enforcement and judicial personnel continue to be ongoing issues partly because the history of the Métis people in Canada is not well known or even acknowledged by justice system workers or law enforcement. In an effort to address the gaps that exist and meet the ongoing needs of Métis people within the Ontario justice system the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) has developed a series of programs for those who find themselves in conflict with the law. The MNO operates these programs through funding it receives from the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Indigenous Justice Division.

Community Justice Services Program

The Community Justice Services Program provides support to Métis individuals who are going through the criminal justice system and are facing prosecution. The Program’s services are open to all First Nation, Inuit, and Métis individuals in conflict with the law at the Peel Region, Durham Region, and Newmarket courthouses. This Program serves to enhance the community justice options that are already available at these locations including restorative justice, alternative dispute resolution, Aboriginal and Indigenous specific services, and diversion programs.

As part of the Community Justice Services Program the MNO has developed the Community Diversion Program for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis adults and youth who are undergoing criminal prosecution in the Peel Region, Durham Region, and Newmarket jurisdictions. Diversion is the legal practice of diverting a defendant out of the criminal justice system by having them complete a diversion program rather than being incarcerated or having them serve another alternative sentence. Subject to the consent of the Crown diversion is available to individuals who accept responsibility for their actions and who agree to participate in the MNO’s community based process rather than the court process.

Diversion is typically used for non-violent matters. The MNO’s Community Diversion Program offers an alternative to sentencing for Indigenous peoples through the delivery of services that promote conflict resolution and reintegration into the community. This is done through the Community Justice Council which is made up of volunteers from Ontario Métis communities. Through this Program volunteers who are part of the Council meet with individuals who have pending legal and criminal matters at the courthouse. This Program is unique in that provides a space for community members and those in conflict with the law to come together and work out a resolution that takes into consideration their Métis identity and the history of colonialization that comes along with it.

The Community Justice Council is currently comprised of Métis community volunteers from the Credit River Métis Council, the Toronto and York Region Métis Council, the Great Lakes Métis Council, and the Oshawa and Durham Region Métis Council. Through the Council these volunteers are involved in the delivery of alternative dispute resolution, diversion hearings, sentencing gatherings, and sharing circles. The goal of this Program is to have individuals accept a greater degree of responsibility for their actions through a more active engagement with Indigenous members of their community.

Through this Program MNO representatives help facilitate access to services and supports for individuals at the arrest, pre-charge, bail, sentencing, and post-conviction stages. In this way the MNO’s Community Diversion Program plays a critical role in addressing the over representation of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people at every stage of the criminal justice process and system while at the same time offering a safe and culturally meaningful space for individuals to take responsibility for their actions. To ensure that we are serving people as best we can the Program provides volunteers with training and learning opportunities, on an ongoing basis, with regards to restorative practices principles and other conflict resolution strategies that are relevant to their work. The Community Diversion Program was developed with the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Supreme Court of Canada sentencing principles including the Gladue Principles in mind.

The Gladue Principles are a set of sentencing principles named after the Gladue Report that recognize that Indigenous people in Canada face racism and systemic discrimination in and out of the criminal justice system. The Gladue Principles set out guidelines for how to deal with the crisis of overrepresentation and inequity of Indigenous people in custody, to the extent possible, through changing how sentences occur and stresses the importance of alternatives to criminal sentencing for Indigenous people. All individuals who identify as First Nations, Inuit, and Métis are eligible for referral to the Community Diversion Program. In order to deliver this Program and support clients who are in conflict with the law the Community Justice Services Program collaborates with the MNO’s Healing and Wellness Branch.

Indigenous Justice Liaison Program

The MNO also offers the Indigenous Justice Liaison Program. The Program disseminates information and promotes education on topics relevant to Indigenous, particularly Métis, communities who are dealing with legal issues and concerns. The Program works to relate the justice concerns of Métis communities to the appropriate government and community agencies. This includes delivering Métis grounded cultural competency training sessions to justice partners in the Sault Ste. Marie Region and surrounding areas. While the Program is based out of Sault Ste. Marie, the Indigenous Justice Liaison Program gladly welcomes and serves clients from all across Ontario.

As part of this Program the MNO Justice Liaison Coordinator attends Community Council meetings, the Annual General Assembly (AGA), and liaises with relevant community stakeholders to highlight Métis issues and needs within the legal system. In order to carry out this important work the Indigenous Justice Liaison Coordinator works alongside the Community Restorative Justice Coordinator to insure that clients are served in the best manner possible. This Program was developed in response to an independent review that was conducted in 2013 by the Honourable Frank Iacobucci who served for 13 years as a Puisne Justice on the Supreme Court of Canada.

In his report entitled “First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries” Iacobucci found that First Nations individuals, particularly in Northern Ontario, are significantly underrepresented on juries and within the administration of justice. One of the many recommendations of this report was that in order to address the lack of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people on Ontario juries, comprehensive justice education programs need to be developed and liaison workers responsible for consulting with First Nations people on juries and justice issues need to be established.

Although we are not in a position to provide legal advice, the Justice Liaison Coordinator can help individuals access the resources they need to address their legal matters. Additionally, the MNO is currently in the process of better equipping our justice program staff in order to build capacity to better assist our clients and provide further resources. The MNO is currently in the process of building a number of exciting new justice programs and expanding our current offerings in order to better serve our clients and the Ontario Métis community at large.

Restorative Justice Services Coordinator Service

The Restorative Justice Services Coordinator Service is available for clients in conflict with the law at the Oshawa, Newmarket, and Brampton courthouses. The purpose of the Restorative Justice Services Coordinator is to enhance the community justice and restorative options available for Métis people in these communities. This includes the alternative dispute resolution processes and diversion programs that are available in these locations.

CONTACT: Individuals in conflict with the law, either in-custody or otherwise, can access these services by contacting MNO Community Restorative Justice Coordinator Diana Filici by email at dianaf@metisnation.org or by phone at: 289 – 541 – 5701. Individuals who are interested in volunteering their time and making a difference in their communities should also contact Diana for more information. Community members who have need of the Indigenous Justice Liaison Program or are in need of assistance navigating the Ontario civil, criminal, and family legal systems can contact the MNO’s Justice Liaison Coordinator Megan Riberdy by email at meganr@metisnation.org or by phone at Phone at 705 – 254 – 1768 Ext. 305.

Updated: July 22, 2020