Today, British Columbia added a new cross-ministry office of the Indigenous Justice Secretariat to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in the justice system and Indigenous children and youth in care. This commitment was outlined in the BC First Nations Justice Strategy, which is designed by and for Indigenous Peoples to reform the colonial justice system and revitalize Indigenous legal practices.
The secretariat will work with all partners to lead the transformative change needed to create the conditions where Indigenous Peoples are no longer disproportionately interacting with, nor being impacted by, the justice system. It will be housed within the Ministry of Attorney General and led by newly appointed assistant deputy minister Colleen Spier, who has previously served as the ministry’s executive director of the Indigenous Justice Policy and Legislation Division.
In her role, Spier has been instrumental in supporting the collaboration, development, and implementation of the BC First Nations Justice Strategy and Métis Justice Strategy. She is a Métis-Cree lawyer and was one of the inaugural directors of the BCFNJC when it was launched in 2015. Under Indigenous leadership, the Indigenous Justice Secretariat fulfills a commitment made by the government in Strategy 9 of the BC First Nations Justice Strategy.
The overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in the justice system is a long-standing issue that has been the subject of much discussion and debate in recent years. Indigenous Peoples have been overrepresented in Canada’s criminal justice system for decades, with the overrepresentation increasing in recent years. According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous Peoples accounted for 30% of admissions to provincial and territorial correctional services in 2016-17, despite comprising only 5% of the Canadian population.
This overrepresentation results from several factors, including systemic racism, poverty, intergenerational trauma, and the legacy of residential schools. Indigenous Peoples are also underrepresented in roles of authority and responsibility within the justice system, which contributes to their overrepresentation.
The establishment of the Indigenous Justice Secretariat is a key part of the Province’s commitments to advancing reconciliation under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (Declaration Act) and supporting Indigenous-led restoration of traditional justice systems and culturally relevant institutions. By working with Indigenous Peoples and partners to create a justice system that is more responsive to the needs and perspectives of Indigenous Peoples, the Province hopes to make progress toward addressing the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in the justice system and promoting a more just and equitable society for all.
Image credit KWANTLEN POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY