We might expect fairness

Excerpt from Peace and Good Order by Harold R. Johnson

This is an excerpt from the book Peace and Good Order by Harold R. Johnson.

In Canada there is a widely held expectation that the law will be fair. Indigenous Peoples expect that when a white man kills an Indigenous person, he will be treated with the same sternness that has been applied to us. Law is fundamental to the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and settlers. But while we might expect fairness, our experience has been otherwise.

Everything that has been done to Indigenous Peoples has been legal. Law was used to deny us access to the natural resources within the territories we share with settlers. Law has been used to confine us to tiny plots that are economically unsustainable. Under the pass system, introduced by law in 1885 and not repealed until 1951, Indians needed the permission of the Indian agent to leave our reserves to visit neighbouring relatives or to go hunting or fishing or gathering, and the Indian agent relied upon the police to enforce his decisions to deny permission. Law gave huge tracts of our territory to foreign corporations to exploit the natural resources, depriving us of sacred sites, food sources, medicines and income. We were arrested if we entered into territory where our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had lived, hunted, fished, trapped and gathered. When the Prince Albert National Park was created in 1927, it was the RCMP who came to tell my mother’s family that the territory where they lived and found sustenance had become a park and they had to leave their houses and their gardens and the trails and the land and animals they were familiar with and move somewhere else.

Canadian law determined who we were. Under the terms of the Indian Act, if a First Nations woman married a non–First Nations man, she lost her status as an Indian. She and her children lost their right to hunt, fish and gather. If they were caught hunting or fishing, they frequently were arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced to jail—for the crime of feeding their families. I can remember when I was young and my mother’s brother Ben was arrested and sent to jail for hunting. Not only did his immediate family suffer; the entire community suffered because Ben was an exceptional hunter who provided meat to a lot more people than just his wife and children. I was born in a small northern community of trappers and fishers to a Cree mother and a Forest-Finn Swede father. It was not until 2011 that the Indian Act was changed and Canadian law recognized me as an Indian.

Indigenous Peoples were not only the subject of laws that encircled and diminished us. We were also denied the ability to resist those laws. Any other Canadian citizen who was the subject of an unjust law could challenge that law in court. We could not. From 1927 until 1951, it was against the law for Indigenous people or communities to hire a lawyer, without the government’s consent, to bring claims against the government to restore lands or rights taken away by that government.

Law has been used to compel us to surrender our children to residential schools, where horrors were inflicted upon them in an attempt to eradicate our culture and language. The police were instrumental in rounding up our children. (My mother attended a residential school for one year, in about 1930, and several of my cousins were sent in the 1970s and ’80s. My siblings and I were spared that horror.)

Law was used again in the 1960s, when social workers, accompanied by police officers, removed Indigenous children from their homes on the pretext that they were not being cared for properly. After my father died, my mother was told that if she continued to take me and my siblings out of school to go to the trapline with her, the government would take her children away. In 1967, if you told an Indigenous woman with one year of schooling and six children at home that you were going to take her children away from her, she would do anything she was told. My mother surrendered her independence. She moved us to a larger community, where she was forced to go on welfare.

And law has been used to fill the jails with Indigenous men, women and children at rates that continue to rise. Not only are Indigenous people more likely to be sentenced to prison, but they are also subject to some of the restrictive types of punishment, including segregation, high-security classifications and involuntary transfers.

To say that law and justice have failed Indigenous Peoples in Canada is a vast understatement. Law and justice appear to be the tools employed to continue the forced subjugation of an entire population.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Peace and Good Order – Summary

Here is the book summary:

An urgent, informed, intimate condemnation of the Canadian state and its failure to deliver justice to Indigenous people by national bestselling author and former Crown prosecutor Harold R. Johnson.

In early 2018, the failures of Canada’s justice system were sharply and painfully revealed in the verdicts issued in the deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine. The outrage and confusion that followed those verdicts inspired former Crown prosecutor and bestselling author Harold R. Johnson to make the case against Canada for its failure to fulfill its duty under Treaty to effectively deliver justice to Indigenous people, worsening the situation and ensuring long-term damage to Indigenous communities.

In this direct, concise, and essential volume, Harold R. Johnson examines the justice system’s failures to deliver “peace and good order” to Indigenous people. He explores the part that he understands himself to have played in that mismanagement, drawing on insights he has gained from the experience; insights into the roots and immediate effects of how the justice system has failed Indigenous people, in all the communities in which they live; and insights into the struggle for peace and good order for Indigenous people now.

Copyright © 2019 by Harold R. Johnson.

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