Equity for Aboriginal people in the legal system

Learn how the Government of Canada is responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action 50 to 52.

50. In keeping with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal organizations, to fund the establishment of Indigenous law institutes for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

What's happening?

Indigenous peoples in Canada have unique laws and legal traditions. The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of revitalizing Indigenous legal systems, as well as the important role of Indigenous law institutes. To this end, Budget 2019 announced $9.1 million over 3 years, starting in fiscal year 2019 to 2020, to support the construction of an Indigenous Legal Lodge at the University of Victoria, a leader in this field. The Indigenous Legal Lodge will house the university's new dual degree program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders and will serve as a foundation for debate, learning, public education and partnership on the revitalization of Indigenous laws.

Budget 2019 also announced $10 million over 5 years, starting in fiscal year 2019 to 2020, in support of Indigenous law initiatives across Canada through the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program, to improve equality for Indigenous Peoples in Canada's legal system.

For example, through the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program, $134,127 has been provided to the University of Alberta for the development of the new Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge, as announced by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada on August 14, 2019.

51. We call upon the Government of Canada, as an obligation of its fiduciary responsibility, to develop a policy of transparency by publishing legal opinions it develops and upon which it acts or intends to act, in regard to the scope and extent of Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

What's happening?

The Government of Canada is committed to renewing the relationship with Indigenous peoples, based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.

On January 11, 2019, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada issued the Directive on Civil Litigation Involving Indigenous Peoples. The directive guides the government's legal approaches, positions and decisions taken in civil litigation involving Aboriginal and treaty rights and the Crown's obligation towards Indigenous peoples.

The Government of Canada is currently reviewing existing policies and practices on legal opinions including through the lens of broader open government initiatives. Through this review, further options will be developed to address Call to Action 51.

52. We call upon the Government of Canada, provincial and territorial governments, and the courts to adopt the following legal principles:

  1. Aboriginal title claims are accepted once the Aboriginal claimant has established occupation over a particular territory at a particular point in time.
  2. Once Aboriginal title has been established, the burden of proving any limitation on any rights arising from the existence of that title shifts to the party asserting such a limitation.

What's happening?

The Government of Canada has moved to an approach to Indigenous relations that is grounded in the recognition of rights. This means not forcing First Nations, Inuit and Métis rights-holders to use the courts to see those rights implemented.

On January 11, 2019, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada issued the Directive on Civil Litigation Involving Indigenous Peoples. The directive will guide the government's legal approaches, positions and decisions taken in civil litigation involving Aboriginal and treaty rights and the Crown's obligation towards Indigenous peoples.

The directive is part of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada's work to review the Government of Canada's litigation strategy. This is to ensure the federal government's legal positions are consistent with its commitments, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian values.

Consistent with the Principles Respecting the Government of Canada's Relationship with Indigenous Peoples, the directive emphasizes the importance of resolving conflicts expeditiously and collaboratively, reducing the use of litigation and the courts.

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