Indigenous Representation on Juries

Practice Point


In February 2013, the Honourable Frank Iacobucci, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, called the lack of representation of First Nations peoples on juries a problem “of serious proportions” and said the justice system “as applied to First Nations peoples, particularly in the North, is quite frankly in a crisis.”

  If we continue the status quo we will aggravate what is already a serious situation, and any hope of true reconciliation between First Nations and Ontarians generally will vanish. Put more directly, the time for talk is over, what is desperately needed is action … The consequences of [doing nothing about the problem] will be very serious.

(First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries: Report of the Independent Review Conducted by The Honourable Frank Iacobucci, February 2013)

Before making 17 urgent recommendations that have not been implemented after five years have passed, Justice Iacobucci looked not only at Ontario but at other common-law jurisdictions including other Canadian provinces. He took note of the 1991 report of Manitoba’s Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, which was created in response to the 16-year delay in bringing to trial any accused for the brutal 1971 murder of Helen Betty Osborne as well as  the 1988 death of J.J. Harper following an encounter with a Winnipeg police officer.

Wrote the Co-Commissioners, Associate Chief Justice of Manitoba Alvin Hamilton (as he then was) and Judge Murray Sinclair (as he then was):

We believe that the exclusion of potential jurors on the basis of their race is an unacceptable and probably unconstitutional practice which should be ended by reform of the method of juror selection. We recommend a considerable overhaul of the jury system in Volume One of our report.

(An implementation commission submitted its final report in April 2001 on how to implement the recommendations of the 1991 Manitoba report.)

Murray Sinclair, Manitoba’s first Indigenous judge and now a senator [and the Chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission], co-chaired the inquiry. He tweeted about the Stanley trial last week.


“Without Indigenous people on the jury, how will they understand?” he wrote.


His son Niigaan Sinclair, a professor of native studies at the University of Manitoba, said Indigenous jurors bring history and experience into a room. He suggests all jurors undergo some sort of educational training before a trial starts.


“The situation in Saskatchewan demands competency in understanding the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and I would say that, on the whole, Canadians are not adequately prepared for the complexities of the past 150 years,” he said.


“Understanding the Indian Act, understanding how Canada has been built off the exploitation of Indigenous peoples and resources … all of that goes into the (killing) of Colten Boushie.”

(“Experts renew calls for challenge changes, jury lists with more Indigenous names“, Truro Daily News, Feb. 9, 2018)

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We acknowledge that the land on which we work is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.