In ‘Paradigm Shift,’ Trudeau Announces Talks on Indigenous People’s Rights

In ‘Paradigm Shift,’ Trudeau Announces Talks on Indigenous People’s Rights


By coincidence, the announcement came just days after a jury in Saskatchewan acquitted a farmer who had shot and killed a 22-year-old Cree man. Mr. Trudeau met with relatives of the man, Colten Boushie, on Tuesday.

The family members said the police had treated them more like criminals than victims and had conducted an inadequate investigation. They also contended that Indigenous people were excluded from the jury because judicial rules allowed defense lawyers to dismiss up to 14 potential jurors without explanation.

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Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Jane Philpott, Canada’s minister of indigenous services, at a special assembly meeting in Ottawa last year.

Credit
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

Mr. Trudeau said on Wednesday that the government would use the meetings, known as consultations, to determine how jury selection could be changed.

During his speech, Mr. Trudeau said that his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, initially did not want to include Indigenous rights when Canada created its current Constitution in 1982. While pressure from aboriginal groups and their supporters reversed that stance — and the Constitution does enshrine the rights of Indigenous people — the younger Mr. Trudeau acknowledged that there had been widespread disappointment about the effectiveness of the protections.

He attributed that in part to the failure of successive governments to make significant legal changes and introduce other measures to ensure that Indigenous people have the rights the Constitution promises.

“We have a Constitution that created a space for Indigenous rights,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday, “but over the past decades, we haven’t done a very good job of putting those rights at the forefront of all our decision-making and all our engagement with them.”

One consequence of that, Mr. Trudeau said in his speech, is that “instead of outright recognizing and affirming Indigenous rights, as we promised we would, Indigenous peoples were forced to prove, time and time again, through costly and drawn-out court challenges, that their rights existed, must be recognized and implemented.”

Numerous commissions and studies, particularly a 1991 inquiry, have proposed reworking the legal system to guarantee Indigenous rights and allow aboriginal people to run their own affairs.

The consultations will be led by Jody Wilson-Raybould, the justice minister, and Carolyn Bennett, the Indigenous relations minister, with the aim of putting changes in place by fall 2019.

In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said that enabling Indigenous groups to become self-governing was her goal. Of the legislation that has long governed aboriginal people, she added, “I’m looking forward to the day that the Indian Act no longer exists.”



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