We had the great opportunity to interview Olivier Chouc, Vice President, Law at Canadian National Railway ("CN"), on CN's longstanding support for the Indigenous Youth Outreach Program. We thank Olivier and CN for their commitment to investing in the future of Indigenous youth and equitable access to justice in Canada.
Level: Why is it important to CN to support the success of programs such as Level's Indigenous Youth Outreach Program (IYOP)?
Olivier Chouc: Because at CN, we believe in equal opportunities. We also believe that differences should be celebrated, not depreciated. We love the principle on which IYOP is built. The belief that with a greater understanding comes greater acceptance. And that greater acceptance is the first step towards true reconciliation.
Indigenous youth are over-represented in our criminal justice system. That is a failure and it is not the failure of Indigenous youth. It is a failure of the system.
At CN, we believe programs like IYOP are essential tools to help fix the system. By increasing non-Indigenous awareness of Indigenous culture and beliefs, we will be able to redefine a justice system that is accessible for all Canadians. And by increasing Indigenous youths' understanding of that system, we will help Indigenous youth better navigate that system and avoid its pitfalls.
This is not about fitting Indigenous youth into the existing system. It’s about improving that system so it serves the interest of every Canadian.
Level: Why do you think Level's IYOP creates a positive impact for Indigenous youth?
Olivier Chouc: I think it gives Indigenous youth the ability to better understand a system they did not choose, but also gives Indigenous youth access to leaders who will become ambassadors for a better, more inclusive and more representative legal system.
Level: What do you see as the benefits of engaging vulnerable youth participants in a positive experience with the justice system?
Olivier Chouc: I don’t think anybody can embrace a system he or she does not understand. Particularly one that has had significant adverse effects, such as the Canadian legal system has had on Indigenous youth. I think a better understanding of the system will lead to more engaged youth and a system that actually avoids the pitfalls of that system. But the system has to evolve to reflect the reality of all Canadians. As more Indigenous leaders emerge and as more non-Indigenous leaders start to better understand Indigenous communities, we will change that system to make it a more inclusive system.
Level: How do you see IYOP as a program which develops respectful and mutually-beneficial relationships with Indigenous communities across Canada?
Olivier Chouc: IYOP is a two-way street. It fosters communication between Indigenous youth and non-Indigenous leaders and increases awareness and mutual respect between our communities. It is premised on equality and the richness of diversity. This is the model of social justice which Canada must aspire to and, from that point of view IYOP is a pioneer.
Level: How can we continue to raise awareness on access to justice issues in Canada?
Olivier Chouc: I think we need to talk about the weaknesses in our system. I was reading on your own website that “despite making up only 8% of the youth population in Canada, Indigenous youth aged 12-17 account for nearly half of all of admissions to correctional services in Canada at 46%. From a gender perspective, Indigenous boys account for 47% of male admissions to penal youth facilities. For Indigenous girls, the numbers are even more stark, making up 60% of all female youth in the correctional system”.
This is unacceptable. And I believe it happens because of a lack of awareness. So we need to talk about these failures of our system. And we need to better prepare Indigenous youth to navigate that system. And ultimately, we need to raise all Canadians’ awareness so that not only the next generation of Indigenous leaders emerge, but also the next generation of inclusive, non-Indigenous leaders also emerge, to build a stronger Canada, together.