The main function of the Special Projects Officer is to assist the executive council, directors, chiefs and communities’ advance the mandates that do not fall within the responsibility of programs/departments within the Mushkegowuk Council. In advancing assigned mandates the Special Projects Officer is required to work with several federal and provincial ministries, other Indigenous organizations, including lawyers, consultants, and others. The following are some of the major files that are being advanced under Special Projects.
In November of 2019, the Council of Chiefs passed a resolution calling for remote zoom court locations in the fly-in First Nations. To address this resolution and the need for greater access to justice, a Remote Court Locations proposal was submitted to Ontario’s Ministry of Attorney General in June 2022. If funded, this proposal would begin to address longstanding and serious gaps in access to justice experienced by members living in the remote Mushkegowuk communities.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, justice services were inadequate in our communities. For example, fly-in courts would be postponed or even cancelled due to inclement weather, creating delays and prolonging proceedings. Community members often have to leave their community to attend important hearings, such as care and custody hearings, costing them time and money they do not have and creating conflicts with their obligations to care for children and elders at home. In many cases, travel is not possible and they cannot access justice. Witnesses and complainants were not able to meet with Crown Attorneys until just before fly-in courts, thereby participating in criminal trials with inadequate preparation and support.
These gaps have only been worsened by the ongoing pandemic. Many people have not been able to participate in the virtual hearings that replaced the fly-in courts due to overcrowded housing and lack of internet access. Too many people have had little to no access to the justice system for over two years, resulting in undue delays, unnecessary bench warrants, victims unable to attain justice, and accused people languishing in prison waiting for a trial date.
If approved, our proposal would increase access to justice for the members of Mushkegowuk First Nations using a two-pronged approach. First, we are proposing that interim remote court locations would be immediately implemented in each of the four fly-in First Nations. These locations would be rented spaces staffed by full-time Justice Services Coordinators and equipped with two Internet connections (cable and satellite) to ensure reliability. Community members would be able to access the remote court locations to attend virtual court appearances and hearings, to meet with their counsel or to access a Justice of the Peace. This would give community members more frequent and timely access to the justice system.
Keeping in mind, remote court locations alone cannot address the longstanding gaps and injustices described above. This is why the second and more important part of our proposal is the concurrent construction of permanent and dedicated justice centres in each community. Depending on the identified needs of each First Nation, these centres could permanently house the remote court locations, provide much-needed meeting rooms, and even host the fly-in courts.
Dedicated justice centres are needed due to the acute shortage of adequate space on our First Nations. The meeting rooms within justice centres would provide safe, discreet and private spaces for Crown Attorneys and Victim Services to meet with witnesses and complainants, and for lawyers to meet with their clients. Currently, these meetings typically occur at police stations, hallways or in crowded homes, which are not ideal locations for confidential and important conversations. The co-location of fly-in courts in the justice centres would provide reliable and adequate spaces for in-person hearings, something that cannot be said of the spaces currently used for fly-in courts. Justice centres in our remote communities would begin to approximate the level of service and quality of experience that other Ontarians have when they participate in the justice system.
Currently, the justice system in our region is Ontario’s responsibility. Ontario funds courts and provides access to justice in the south. Our proposal would simply provide some of the same services and benefits in our remote communities. Mushkegowuk Council’s primary role is to help secure funding. Each First Nation would have control over any implementation and how it is carried out. Mushkegowuk Council’s proposal cannot address all of the gaps in access to justice, but it brings us much closer to meaningful solutions to some of the worst inequalities.
On-going discussions with Ontario are being held to seek approval of our Remote Court Locations Proposal.
Mushkegowuk Council has been working to improve policing in the Mushkegowuk First Nations. In the past few years, we have succeeded in making the following progress.
Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU): Funding has been secured from Canada and Ontario for Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS) establish a DEU for the Mushkegowuk First Nations area. The goal is to have high-quality drug enforcement capacity in each First Nation. This is a 3-year pilot project and NAPS is currently in the process of staffing the Unit.
Continued funding for the Mushkegowuk police cadet program has been secured. This program provides funding for 5 police cadet positions for our members. The goal is for many of the cadets to become fully-fledged officers so we have more local officers who know our communities and can provide excellent policing for the long-term.
Restorative Justice Coordinator
Special Projects Officer
Timmins Office Reception
Reception Resource Assistant