On Dec. 15, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has the opportunity to choose an Indigenous judge for the Supreme Court of Canada. Unfortunately, the likelihood of such a historic appointment remains uncertain because of a bilingual language requirement still in place.
The bilingual requirement for Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) judges to speak both French and English is a barrier for Indigenous jurists who are fluent in English and their Indigenous languages in order to serve their communities. This requirement should be overlooked in consideration of the crisis of overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons.
Although Indigenous people represent approximately three per cent of the population of Canada, they currently account for over a quarter of the country’s incarcerated population.
According to an official press release from the Canadian Government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked his advisory committee to recommend three to five “jurists of the highest caliber, functionally bilingual, and representative of the diversity of our great country.”
While the candidates presented to Trudeau has yet to be revealed, the possible presence of either Indigenous jurists Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond of the Muskeg Cree Lake Nation or John Borrows, member of Chippewa of the Nawash First Nations, on this list is an exciting possibility expressed by major media outlets across the country.
Both candidates work in Indigenous law and have personal experiences as Indigenous youth that would provide a long overdue understanding of the lives of Indigenous people in this country to the SCC and how colonial history has translated to overrepresentation in Canada’s prisons.
We can’t forget judges appointed to the SCC preside over the highest court in the country. Their decisions greatly impact courts of lower levels and often set a precedent that’s difficult to override.
While neither jurist has expressed that they’re bilingual, they could make an equally significant contribution to the SCC if chosen.
Both Borrow and Turpel-Lafond have demonstrated dedication to the cause of Indigenous justice in Canada and are exactly the candidates Trudeau should be looking for as pressures to meet Truth and Reconciliation recommendations continue.
In Canada’s present, a jurist of the “highest caliber” who has experienced the effects of cultural genocide and has a deep connection with Indigenous history is invaluable to the Canadian legal system. If the SCC needs a more diverse bench, representation needs to extend to those who are put behind bars too.
Jasnit is one of The Journal’s Assistant News Editors. She’s a second-year Political Studies Major.
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