Friday, October 14, 2005

Aboriginal Justice? For the Supremes, Maybe

Irwin Cotler's new Supreme Court nomination process has had one predictable effect: there's now a channel for people who want to see an aboriginal Supreme Court justice.

The Canadian and Indigenous Bar Associations and the Canadian Association of Law Teachers say an aboriginal person should get the job.

Several prominent Saskatchewan aboriginal people have been named as potential candidates.
Among them: Saskatoon-based lawyer Don Worme, as well as Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and Gerald Morin, who are both provincial court judges.

Paul Chartrand, a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan, says aboriginal people may be fighting for the right to self-government but they also want better represention in Canadian systems.

"We want a say," Chartrand said.

The courts are often the battle grounds that determine the extent of treaty and inherent rights, he said.

Currently, aboriginal people are under-represented on the bench. There are currently just five federally-appointed aboriginal judges in the country.

According to Diane Corbiere, the president of the Indigenous Bar Association, there are about 600 aboriginal law graduates and many are ready to sit on the bench.

"I hear about persons with great merit applying in different jurisdictions and just being sort of fed up with the process," she said.

I can certainly see where the pressure groups might have a point. A Supreme Court justice with knowledge of aboriginal jurisprudence (i.e. Aboriginal justice systems) would be useful on the top bench, particularly when it comes to understanding land and resource claims based on ancient treaty rights.

However, those pushing for a Native judge need to understand that they may run afoul of the same mindset against Ontario's proposed Sharia law: that judgements in Canada must respect the current Canadian judicial system, without imposing values from other cultures. Just because a justice is from a First Nation doesn't mean he or she will automatically side with the Aboriginals in a resources claims dispute.

Now, their case can be helped by the presence of Chester Cunningham (a M├ętis) on the advisory committee creating the short list. But filling this upcoming vacancy is still a Librano decision to make -- and their judgement is tied to what keeps the Liberals in power, not necessarily what's good for the First Peoples.