Last Tuesday, UTM’s annual Snider Lecture, focused on improving Canada’s relationships with Aboriginal people, was held at the Kaneff Centre. This year’s speaker was former supreme court judge, the Honourable Frank Iacobucci.
Throughout his career, Iacobucci has worked extensively with various demographics, including Aboriginal individuals. He was the federal government’s representative in the negotiations that led to the 2005 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Additionally, Iacobucci compiled a comprehensive 413-page report, titled “Police Encounters with People in Crisis”, for former police chief William Blair of the Toronto Police Services. His recommendations included creating a police and mental health oversight committee, and proactively educating officers on the available mental health resources. Iacobucci currently represents the Province of Ontario in its negotiations with the Chiefs of the Matawa Council on the Ring of Fire.
The Snider Lecture began with a traditional Indigenous welcome by UTM’S Aboriginal Elder Cat Criger.
At the beginning of the lecture, Iacobucci stated, “With over 55 years [of experience] in the law, I have never encountered issues more complex and more difficult than those relating to Aboriginal people.”
He highlighted the history of Aboriginal people in Canada, particularly how the systemic discrimination and marginalization they faced under the government has impacted the kinds of issues they experience today. For example, the treaties that were signed between the Aboriginal people and the British and the French post-contact led to them losing their land.
“In the minds of the Aboriginal people, the treaty is about sharing the land […], whereas in the minds of the government of our country, it was about their surrender of land,” said Iacobucci.
Iacobucci also spoke about Indian Residential schools, which were created to assimilate and “kill the Indian in the child,” causing an intergenerational trauma, as well as dysfunctional family relations in the Aboriginal community. He further elaborated about how all these human rights violations have led to everyday challenges, such as inadequate housing, poor education, and even shortages of clean water on reserves.
“No amount of money can compensate [for this],” said Iacobucci.
He also stated that while the 2008 apology made by Stephen Harper to Aboriginals was directed towards the past, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is orientated towards the future relationship between Aboriginal people and the Canadian government.
Iacobucci has hope for the future, as Canada is the only country in the English-speaking world that has provisions in its constitution for Aboriginal people.
“It’s only the beginning, but it’s important,” he said.
Iacobucci spoke about the ways that the Canadian government can move towards building better long-term relationships with the indigenous community. He emphasized the importance of educating non-Aboriginal people about the history and culture of the Aboriginal communities. He also pointed out the need for representation of Aboriginal people in Canadian juries, and how the government should incorporate the Aboriginal approach of restorative justice into its system.
“Our relationship with the Aboriginal people has to be based […] on the fundamental pillar of mutual respect and trust […] There has to be meaningful participation on our side,” emphasized Iacobucci.
After the lecture, Iacobucci spoke with The Medium about the current efforts of the Canadian government in regards to Aboriginal issues. “I think both the prime minister and the premier of our province are very committed in trying to improve the relationship,” he said. “I don’t have any doubt of that.”
The lecture was followed by a reception in which traditional indigenous food was served, inspired by the culinary practices of the Anishnaabe, including wild rice casserole and iced sweet grass tea.