TORONTO — Ontario should see more Indigenous people sitting on juries after the Progressive Conservative government’s budget bill comes into effect.

Bill 100, which is in the final stages of being passed into law, includes a schedule that will change the way juries are selected. Jury source lists will come from the Ministry of Health’s records, instead of from government records of property owners.

The current process, which draws jurors through municipal property assessments, excludes everyone who lives on a First Nation.

The change is “one positive step forward” for the relationship between Indigenous people and the justice system, Six Nations Chief Ava Hill told the government’s finance committee last week.

“The result will be lists of potential jury members that are more inclusive, involving more Indigenous people, including those who live on reserve,” she said.

‘More reflective of Ontario’s diverse communities’

The change was recommended in a 2013 report on First Nations representation on juries, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General told HuffPost Canada.

“Using the OHIP [Ontario Health Insurance Plan] database will provide a more efficient process for creating jury rolls that are more reflective of Ontario’s diverse communities,” spokesman Brian Gray said in a statement by email.

Hill told the committee that Indigenous murder victims “have become the faces of a broken system that implicate the jury process.”

Her community and Indigenous communities across the country were devastated in 2018 when a Hamilton, Ont. jury acquitted a man who had admitted to killing one of her own Six Nations members, Hill told HuffPost Canada in an interview.

“It appears that a truck is worth more than a young man’s life,” she said.

Peter Khill admitted to shooting and killing Jon Styres in 2016, but pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. Styres was allegedly trying to break into Khill’s truck at the time of the shooting.

Khill said that he fired his gun in self-defence because he thought Styres was pointing a gun at him. But Styres, a 29-year-old father of two, didn’t have a gun on him.

Hill said the verdict “seemed to be a repeat of what happened in Saskatchewan with Colten Boushie.”

Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man, was shot and killed on a Saskatchewan farm in 2016. His killer was also acquitted. Jury members were reportedly all white.

“Racism is alive and well in this country,” Hill told HuffPost.

She told the government committee that she attended jury selection for Khill’s trial and that the jury was almost all white.

“The jury was advised that the victim was Indigenous and the accused non-Indigenous but [were] not given any instructions to address any stereotypes in Canadian society about Indigenous people.”

The verdict “has left many Indigenous people feeling profoundly unsafe,” she said. 

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While Ontario’s change to jury selection is a good step, Hill said, more needs to be done.

“I want to talk about the whole justice system,” she said.

She noted that when she visited a Saskatchewan penitentiary for work on the federal government’s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, almost all of the inmates were Indigenous people.

“Most everyone there were in the child welfare system. And they were physically and sexually abused. So, we’ve got to look at all of these issues.”

She recommended the government also:

  • Let First Nations jurors identify as a member of their nation instead of as a citizen of Canada;
  • Encourage participation in jury duty without threatening coercive action, like holding people in contempt of court for not attending when summonsed;
  • Let Indigenous people with minor or dated criminal records serve as jurors;
  • Hold sessions in Indigenous communities to explain the benefits of Indigenous participation in jury duty;
  • Raise compensation for jurors above the current level, which is nothing for the first 10 days of a trial, $40 a day for day 11 to 49 and $100 a day after 50 days, to help low-income people and people on social assistance participate.

Hill also said non-Indigenous Canadians should educate themselves about Indigenous traditions, like the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s great law of peace, which informs the legal principles of the Six Nations justice department.

“That’s part of the problem in this country: people don’t learn,” she said.

“They don’t take the time to find out and understand each other’s culture. Once we do that then maybe we can start moving forward better and resolving some of the issues that everybody in this country is facing.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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