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Ontario First Nations denied equal access to justice, lawsuit alleges

Written by on May 7, 2024

A political organization representing Ontario First Nations has launched a constitutional challenge against the province and the government of Canada, alleging First Nations are being denied equal access to justice.

A statement of claim filed by the Chiefs of Ontario says that many provincial and federal laws — including those related to tenancy, land management and environmental protection — don’t apply on reserves.

The document says that while First Nations can make their own laws and bylaws to fill in those gaps, they aren’t effective without enforcement and prosecution.

The lawsuit alleges the governments do not provide enforcement or prosecution services in relation to First Nations laws, nor do they provide enough funding for First Nations to hire their own enforcement officers or prosecutors.

It further alleges Ontario’s Community Safety and Policing Act, which took effect April 1, explicitly excludes the enforcement of First Nations bylaws from mandatory policing duties and is “ambiguous” on the enforcement of other First Nations laws.

The lawsuit says the lack of resources is harming First Nations people by impeding their ability to combat addiction, exclude dangerous people from communities, regulate tenancy and evictions, and prevent the dumping of waste, among other things.

“This leaves us with no access to justice and unsafe communities,” Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare said in a news conference Tuesday morning.

“The rule of law that other Ontarians take for granted is an illusion for us. Failing to enforce and prosecute our laws is discriminatory to First Nations and puts our communities at serious risk.”

None of the allegations have been tested in court and a statement of defence has not yet been filed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2024.

The Canadian Press