Ontario launches aboriginal human rights training initiative

Marie Meawasige and Lori Mishibinijima at the launch of the Provincial Aboriginal Human Rights Training Initiative.
Marie Meawasige and Lori Mishibinijima at the launch of the Provincial Aboriginal Human Rights Training Initiative. (CNW Group/Human Rights Legal Support Centre)

Acknowledging Ontario’s aboriginal community face “disproportionate” discrimination when accessing legal help, the province launched a new project on Tuesday to help remove some of the biggest barriers.

The joint effort by the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre was unveiled at Sudbury’s N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre, where staff will receive new training to promote access to legal services for aboriginals who are experiencing discrimination.

The project aims to remove the obstacles Aboriginal Peoples face when their human rights have been violated.

In a media release, Marie Meawasige, N’Swakamok’s executive director said: “The disproportionate rate at which aboriginal people experience discrimination has not been reflected in applications to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.”

When asked about the program, spokesperson Jennifer Ramsay told Findlaw.ca: “Aboriginal people are not used to the human rights process for good reasons. Each day they face a range of systemic discrimination and they ask themselves: ‘Which institution do I take on?’”

Ramsay wants aboriginal clients to know the human rights system is “for you, too, and it’s a free service.” She adds aboriginals have faced “great barriers” when it comes to accessing the justice system due to “systemic discrimination.”

The plan, to remove barriers to access to justice is two-fold:

  1. To train all staff, so that they can identify when discrimination occurs, and direct aboriginal clients to the free legal services.
  2. Through outreach with the friendship centres.

How are they planning to train the staff? Ramsay says HRLSC’s Aboriginal Services and Outreach will offer the services of legal counsel, Lori Mishibinijima, who will personally travel around to the friendship centres and instruct staff on human-rights issues and how to recognize discrimination. Ramsay emphasizes they want to make sure staff get personal instruction to ensure they understand the process.

When it came to the budget, Ramsay notes it is “small,” adding $24,850 was donated by the Law Foundation of Ontario and another $25,000 was donated by the HRLSC and the OFIFC. The OFIFC is also donating time and space.

Despite the small budget, this is a noble project which has many people involved who want to make a real difference to removing the barriers Aboriginals face every day when it comes to accessing legal services.

Whether the goals of the project can be successfully implemented, on such a meagre budget, remains to be seen. It’s clear, however, this is a passion project for the organizers.

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