Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission
Strategies for Action
This report is intended to contribute to the implementation of the recommendations of the AJI, taking into consideration the current circumstances and changes that have occurred since the AJI report was issued in 1991. Consideration has also been given to the approaches and recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples on the subject matters of the AJI report.
The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission has attempted to contribute to implementation in various ways. The AJIC has made specific recommendations on priority items after having identified those priorities in consultation with the government and Aboriginal people. Secondly, the Commission has provided the results of some research and analysis on major priority issues. Thirdly, it has provided ideas in the form of discussion papers to inform the debate that must continue on the issues in the AJI report.
As its mandate expires, the AJIC Commissioners wish to emphasize a few points. As indicated in the introductory chapter, the implementation of the AJI report can not happen without the effective participation of the federal government, and of Aboriginal peoples' representatives. On the latter point, the AJIC concurs with the exhortation of the RCAP that policy affecting the interests of Aboriginal peoples or communities should never be designed or implemented without the effective participation of the legitimate political representatives of these peoples or communities.
It is also apparent that the implementation of the AJI report will require a sustained political commitment from the government; the relative lack of action evident in the status reports provided from government departments illustrates that point. Implementation requires changes in the way the government is currently organized to design and implement Aboriginal policy. The government must have a sustained institutional capacity to implement the AJI, and that requires not only appropriate expenditures, but appropriate means of organization, coordination, and responsiveness to changing circumstances and Aboriginal input.
All these points were recognized by the AJI. The AJI report states, "We have found that the nature of government decision making in the past, where Aboriginal people and their interests were concerned, has been cumbersome and inappropriate." (AJI, Volume I, page 641) As long as Aboriginal policy making remains ad hoc in nature, it will fail to meet the needs of Aboriginal people and the people of Manitoba.
The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission recommends that:
The AJI also emphasized in its concluding chapter the skepticism with which Aboriginal people generally view the prospects of reports being implemented. Chief Oscar Lathlin, as he then was, was reported as stating, "This is the biggest fear that we have of this Inquiry, that nothing will be done once the Inquiry is over." (AJI, Volume 1, page 640) The AJI report commented that "Aboriginal people are tired of being studied and are concerned that reports on Aboriginal issues have a history of being placed on a shelf to gather dust." (AJI, Volume 1, page 640)
The present government made a political commitment to implement the AJI recommendations by appointing this Commission, and progress has been made during the term of this Commission's mandate. If the skepticism of Aboriginal people, identified by the AJI, is to be countered, and Aboriginal policies made to matter within the operations of the government, this Commission believes it will be essential to design a strategy for action. In that regard, the AJIC can only endorse the approach of the AJI in its concluding chapter, "A Strategy for Action," and draw attention to the actions identified that must be undertaken by the provincial government. The AJI strategy was predicated upon the recognition that the participation of Aboriginal people, the federal government, the judiciary, and other parties is essential to the strategy. Given the limits of the AJIC mandate, the AJIC Commissioners conclude by endorsing the AJI principle that joint, cooperative, strategic action must be undertaken to properly implement the AJI report. The Commission also endorses the principles behind the substantive recommendations that have not been addressed as priority issues during the term of our mandate.
Throughout this report, the need for attention to strategic results, measurement of outcomes, collection and publication of data, and transparency in administration has been emphasized. The importance of this cannot be overstated. The government must tell the public what it is prepared to do, and what it hopes this will achieve, and provide the public with enough data to allow the public to determine whether these goals have been met.
The final issue to be addressed is the need for successor institutions. The AJIC has two specific recommendations to make in this area. The first is the creation of an Aboriginal Justice Commission; the second is the creation of a Roundtable on Aboriginal Issues.
An Aboriginal Justice Commission
To oversee the implementation of its recommendations, the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry recommended the creation of an Aboriginal Justice Commission.
The AJI recommendations on this issue read as follow:
The AJI believed the Commission should be established by the federal and provincial governments with the participation of the Aboriginal people of Manitoba. The Commission, which was seen as being key to the implementation process, would be mandated to:
In its year and a half of operation, the AJIC has worked with the Manitoba government to implement a number of AJI recommendations and to outline the approach required for further implementation. However, the AJIC has concluded that the sort of Commission envisioned by the AJI is required to ensure continued progress in this area.
A Roundtable on Aboriginal Issues
Government Policy-Making Capacity
Heightened policy capacity in the area of Aboriginal issues must be developed throughout the provincial government, as opposed to simply Manitoba Justice. The decreased representation of Aboriginal people in Manitoba jails can only come about when Aboriginal people have the same general education level, health status, living standards, life expectancy, and educational achievements as non-Aboriginal people. The Manitoba government has a role to play in all these areas.
Dr. Paul Thomas was commissioned by the AJIC to review what steps might be taken to give Aboriginal issues a higher long-term profile with provincial government. (This report is available on the AJIC website.)
In his paper Thomas outlined three sets of concerns that lie behind his examination of the existing structures and processes for handling Aboriginal issues, and of possible, alternative future arrangements.
The paper examines how the values of responsiveness and coordination have been incorporated into the traditional design of government departments, Aboriginal issues, and federalism, and recent policies and programs within Manitoba. The paper concludes with a series of institutional and procedural options that might improve the responsiveness and coordination of policy making and policy implementation within the Government of Manitoba. The benefits and drawbacks of each option are also discussed. The options are:
The AJIC conducted a very helpful and instructive informal discussion with senior government officials on the issues identified in Thomas's paper, and is pleased to acknowledge the able assistance and cooperation of Thomas and government officials in this endeavour. During discussion, one of the ideas that arose, and which seems to merit consideration for adoption in the short term by the government, is the concept of a Roundtable on Aboriginal issues.
A Roundtable on Aboriginal Issues
The rationale for the creation of a Roundtable on Aboriginal Issues involves several considerations. The public policy challenges involved with meeting the needs and demands of a growing Aboriginal population within Manitoba are exceedingly difficult, and promise to become even more so in the future. Several commentators with whom the AJIC consulted stated that they believed Aboriginal issues are the most significant issues facing the province of Manitoba. Formulating appropriate, sound, legitimate, and widely accepted policies will require new ways of thinking about Aboriginal issues, new ideas for programs, and innovative ways to deliver those programs.
There is currently a fragmented and episodic approach to the development of policy with regard to Aboriginal peoples. The fragmentation is found both within and among governments, and among Aboriginal peoples and their organizations. Approaches to policy development have tended to be ad hoc and incremental. An approach based on the use of periodic royal commissions, task forces, and project teams does not correspond with the fact that the policy and program challenges are continuous and recurrent. Governments do not have a monopoly on the relevant data and knowledge to formulate intelligent policies. Data on Aboriginal peoples and their socio-economic status is weak or non-existent. In the future, Aboriginal organizations will take more control over programs targetted at their populations, but their capacity to formulate sound policies will be limited by available funding, staffing, and organizational capacities.
The Roundtable is intended to provide a forum for the generation of new policy ideas. It would provide continuous attention to Aboriginal issues. It would bring together many of the stakeholders in the Aboriginal policy community—Aboriginal organizations, governments, and others—to promote the formulation of coherent, consistent, and sustainable policies and programs. Information sharing, consultation, and consensus building could take place at the Roundtable. The Roundtable could generate or contract for data and analysis on Aboriginal issues. Participants in the Roundtable will be encouraged to relate more to the evidence on the issues than to engage in political and jurisdictional battles. As with other institutional reforms, there are no guarantees that a joint Roundtable will work exactly as envisioned in theory.
Tasks undertaken by the Roundtable could include:
The structure of the Roundtable would contribute to whether it was a success as "a think tank" for policy ideas, and a forum for the exchange of information and opinion to serve as a basis of support for new policy directions. This is not the place to present a detailed blueprint for the Roundtable. Only some general principles and ideas will be presented.
The Roundtable's membership should include representatives from the leading Aboriginal organizations at the provincial level. It might also include community representatives from the business, labour, social, health and academic sectors. The chairperson of the Roundtable could be a distinguished Manitoban with a demonstrated interest in the field. Making the Roundtable so broadly representative reflects the multi-dimensional nature of the issues facing Aboriginal peoples. The drawbacks of the potentially large size of the Roundtable could be offset by making use of subcommittees to work on particular projects.
The Roundtable would be supported by an executive director and a small professional and administrative staff. The costs of its operations could be supported by government grants. The products of the Roundtable could include discussion papers, reports on performance indicators, strategy documents, and an annual report. While the Roundtable would not be a formal decision-making body, it could play a useful role in generating information and advice for governments and for Aboriginal organizations. The ongoing Roundtable process could support the emergence of a consensus among stakeholders, including the mainstream institutions of society and the public at large. The Roundtable could lessen duplication and stretch the scarce analytical resources.
The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission recommends that:
This recommendation for an ongoing, joint organization that will endeavour to keep Aboriginal issues on the public agenda concludes the work of the AJIC. This report has, as mandated, examined and set priorities for those recommendations of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry that apply to the jurisdiction of the Manitoba government. This is not the place to summarize the vast range of issues that have been addressed—the AJIC's recommendations are reprinted in full in Appendix I of this document. This Commission has had a different scope and mandate from that of the AJI. However, it has tried to honour the spirit of that report by stressing an approach to law and justice that gives a full recognition of Aboriginal rights within a provincial context. The injustices of the past can be overcome, reconciliation and healing are possible, and balance can be restored to our community. It is more than a matter of righting past wrongs or of improving the position of certain groups within society—it is a process that will benefit every member of Manitoba society.