First Nation People And Justice In Canada

Essay, Research Paper

First Nation rights in North America have a history of being overlooked and exploited. The first law that exploited Native people in North America was the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which was designed by the British Crown to take the sovereignty and lands away from the First Nation peoples. This law knowingly violated two of the prevailing European principles of international justice. The Crown was setting itself up as the exclusive real estate agent for the vast First Nation lands in North America. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was the first, but not the last, instance of injustice towards Native Americans. Injustice to First Nations in Canada can be placed on three pillars; the Canadian government, the Canadian courts, and the Canadian people. The Canadian government has been guilty of having treated First Nation people incorrectly. The Canadian government used the Indian Act to define Indian status in racial terms. Also in Canada, Native Americans have been segregated into reserves, dispossessed of large amounts of land, and administered under a separate department of the government. First Nation people are a small minority in Canada so the democratic power of the one-person one vote system does not work for them. The Canadian government can use its political majority to create and implement any legal position it wants in respect of its Indian wards. (Boldt p. 9) The judges who interpret the laws dealing with Native people are predominately white. They do not see the cultural bias that these laws have. The drafting of the Constitution of Canada has not addressed Native rights in a meaningful way. None of the constitutional amendments or First Ministers Conferences have ever dealt with righting the injustices that First nation people have had put upon them. The focus of these have never been to deal with First Nation people in a fair and just way, but rather to defend the existing power structures in the government. Offers by the Canadian government have regularly offered empty promises. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, offered First Nations justice if they would withdraw their opposition to the Meech lake accord. The problem with this was that each provincial government would have been given veto power over first nation self-determination. The problem with this government strategy is that the Canadian government offered justice as a bribe for First Nation people withdrawing opposition to the Meech Lake Accord, when it was a bad deal for First Nation people. Justice is a fundamental principle of human rights. When Mulroney denies this principle, he perverts the meaning of justice. (Boldt p. 11) The court system has also been historically unfair to Native rights. The Supreme Court of Canada has consistently ruled in favor of the colonial doctrines that the Royal Proclamation of 1763 enshrined in regards to land title and sovereignty. The present day judiciary system is fully aware that aboriginal peoples were present when King George III claimed lands in Canada, based on the racist grounds that the Native people were uncivilized. Even though Canadian courts recognize these facts, they still refuse to accept First Nation claims to their ancestral lands. Instead Native people are allowed to live in reservations where there is destitution and dependence on the federal government. The original occupants of the land should have at least enough land to enable them to feed themselves. (Boldt p. 11) The court system has occasionally made minor favorable decisions on Native rights such as allowing First nation people the right to hunt out of season on vacant Crown lands. These are matters that have limited implications and low stakes. However there have been no major decisions which have favorable consequences for First Nation peoples concerning sovereignty and land title. There have also been examples of Canadian interests being given priority over First Nation treaty rights. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in 1989 that the federal Fisheries Act takes precedence over aboriginal, treaty, or other rights and freedoms. The ruling was made for the betterment of Canadians, the interests of the dominant group were more important in the eyes of the court than the rights of the minority group. Canada has been guilty of blatant gender discrimination that was just corrected in 1985. Section 12 (1)(b) of the Indian Act denied status to Native women who married non-Natives. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled in favor of section 12 of the Indian Act when it was challenged. It took the United Nations Human Rights Commission to correct this obvious gender discrimination. The Canadian government amended the Indian Act with Bill C-31, which repelled section 12 (1)(b). First Nation individuals have also been failed by the court system. Donald Marshall Jr., a Micmac, spent eleven years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The report of the royal commission, published in 1990 implicates police, defense lawyers, prosecutors, trial judges at lower and appeal court levels, and senior government officials as having participated in a charade of justice characterized by malice, negligence, malfeasance, incompetence, and improper actions emanating from racial stereotyping. (Boldt p. 13) What is frightening is that the Marshall case has not been an isolated case. Recent provincial inquiries in Ontario (1987), Manitoba (1991), and Alberta (1991) have also found that Native people encountered a lot of abuse in their dealings with police and the criminal courts. Statistics shown that Native people are grossly overrepresented in those who are arrested, convicted, and imprisoned. These statistics lend support to the argument that First Nation people are treated with a racist attitude in the Canadian justice system. Native people have continually stated that they have been the targets of racism in the justice system for years. These reports have been ignored until recently with the provincial inquiries. The findings in these inquiries are that First Nation peoples cannot always be assured of receiving a fair trial. This fact should frighten all Native people. If the system that provides justice is unjust itself, what can First Nation people expect from the other Canadian institutions; political, economic, and social?

The Canadian public supports the equitable treatment of First Nation people according to national surveys, but these readings should be viewed with some skepticism. Most of the Canadian public does not understand the issues facing First Nation people in regards to politics, economics, and social problems. Also many Canadians want to be seen as enlightened and supportive of Native issues. However they may not understand the results if justice was given to First Nation people. Would the majority of these respondents have answered the same if they knew what First Nation people really deserve in regards to land title and sovereignty? The Canadian public does not seem to place First Nation living standards as high as middle class white living standards. Many social and health problems are largely ignored by the general populace, such as the high rate of suicides, lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality rates, tuberculosis epidemics, incidence of alcoholism, fetal alcohol syndrome, large rates of unemployment, and higher than average rates of incarceration. However Canadian government officials would rather talk less about the poor quality of life, rather they would talk about the high costs of welfare support for First Nation people. Canadians have heard these stories in the news and the grim statistics of live on a reservation, but they just shrug them off. These horrible human statistics do not bother Canadians in general; they still see this tragedy as just numbers, not the human calamity that it is. Canadians cannot identify with the pain that First Nation people feel, rather the public complains about the high cost of welfare to support Native peoples. Canadians are numb to whatever they see happening to First nation people. This may be a deep-rooted feeling that Native people are not fully human. Humans derive their identity and humanity from their past. (Boldt p. 16) Most Europeans have a written history of their past and they can find their identity from these records. These same people do not recognize the rich past and history of the First Nation people. Canadians do not like to remember that their ancestors colonized this new land and destroyed the nations already present. Early colonialists also confiscated traditional lands, taking the means of sustenance from First Nation people. Religious ceremonies were outlawed, First Nation peoples rights to self-determination were denied, and children were forcibly taken from their families so they could forget their culture, language, and traditions. With a history like this why would Canadians want to remember? The Canadian public would like to justify their ancestor s actions and a convenient way to do this is to not think of First Nation people as humans. How can you feel pain for people who aren t humans? The Canadian government, court system, and people are the three pillars that have inflicted injustice upon First Nation people in Canada. The government has a long history of denying First Nation rights. Canada likes to see itself as a moral, democratic country where everybody s rights are defended. The Canadian government denounces oppression, racism, and injustice in other countries, but practices the same things at home. The United Nations had to step in to stop a grave injustice occurring on Canadian soil. Section 12 (1)(b) of the Indian Act, where Native women lost their status for marrying non-Native men, was soon repealed. Canada has used democracy to hold back First Nation people. The one-person one vote system is designed to help the majority, not the minority. Any laws, which are beneficial to First Nation people, will not pass a vote because they are a very small minority. Any laws that are passed however have to be interpreted by the court system, and the court system has not been kind to First nation people. The court system has never ruled in favor of First Nation interests on a major case. Even with evidence that lands were illegally taken from First Nation, Canadian courts have never ruled in favor of native rights. First Nation individuals have also suffered in the Canadian court system. Native rights have been suppressed by the police, defense lawyers, prosecutors, and trial judges. The Canadian public has not decried the actions of the government and courts yet either.Canadian people see horrible statistics on the state of life that First Nation people live in on reservations. This doesn t have a great emotional effect on the public however. If these statistics were about a Caucasian community it would have a greater impact on the Canadian public, but is just affects Native communities so it doesn t matter. Canadian people have a hard time recognizing the history and culture of First Nation people in Canada. This prevents them from sympathizing with the plight that affects First Nation people. Until Canadians can accept First Nation s people and their rights, things will continue to stay the same. **sorry I lost the bibliography, the book was written by Menno Bolt about First Nation Native issues**



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