The accessibility of the justice system for Indigenous people in Canada is of significant concern. For instance, Indigenous youth, one of Canada’s fastest growing populations, are more likely to live in poverty and drop out of high school compared to non-Indigenous youth in Canada. Studies have also shown that Indigenous peoples are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice process, yet underrepresented in the administration of justice in Canada. 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 (Statistics Canada, youth correctional statistics). Canada’s prisons have been referred to as the “new residential schools”.
While the reasons for the inaccessibility of the justice system for Indigenous communities are complex, the lack of culturally appropriate educational programming and supports, coupled with the effects of racism, colonialism and the devaluation of Indigenous cultures and identities are widely recognized as significant barriers. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action contain recommendations focused on the need for a responsive solution to eliminating the over-representation of Indigenous youth in the justice system, and for an increase in programming tailored toward Indigenous youth.
IYOP responds to these concerns and calls to action by offering programming that not only increases the students’ knowledge about the justice system and their critical thinking and leadership skills, but also enhances the volunteers’ cultural humility. The program is celebrated for advancing reconciliation by reducing alienation between the justice sector and Indigenous communities by many community leaders, including Senator Murray Sinclair.
In the long term, the program’s goals are to combat the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in the justice system, and to cultivate a more inclusive, diverse, and empathetic legal profession.