Supreme Court Is a ‘Colonial’ Institution, Canada’s Attorney General Lametti Says

Supreme Court Is a ‘Colonial’ Institution, Canada’s Attorney General Lametti Says
Minister of Justice David Lametti rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on June 2, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)
Peter Wilson

The Supreme Court of Canada is a “colonial institution” that should be revitalized to bring back certain practices from indigenous legal systems, says Attorney General David Lametti.

Speaking before the House of Commons justice committee on Aug. 24, Lametti said that indigenous peoples should see their cultures represented in institutions such as the Supreme Court.
“It is extremely important that Indigenous peoples be able to see themselves in what are, quite frankly, colonial institutions and see their participation as a way of making those institutions better and see this as a way of making Canadian law better,” Lametti said, as first reported by Blacklock’s Reporter.

Lametti made the comments while explaining the prime minister’s nomination of Michelle O’Bonsawin—a member of Abenaki First Nation from Hanmer, Ontario—for the Supreme Court.

O’Bonsawin served on the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa for five years and was a general counsel for the Royal Ottawa Health Group before that. In her new role, she will fill the vacancy left by Justice Michael Moldaver when he retires in early September.

Lametti said the government has recently “made progress on diversity” in its Supreme Court appointments. 

“I have, in recent months elevated two people to courts of appeal of Indigenous backgrounds,” said Lametti. “Justice [Leonard] Marchand in British Columbia and Justice Jonathon George in Ontario.”

Lametti said appointing judges with indigenous backgrounds brings Canada closer to having a “truly pluralistic legal system.”

“It gives a boost to indigenous laws themselves and the revitalization of Indigenous legal systems,” he said. “It adds to the legitimacy of those revitalization projects which are critically important as we move forward to making Canada a truly pluralistic legal system.”

In 2021, Lametti said he supported the adoption of indigenous legal systems “on First Nations territory” and his justice department also approved a grant worth half a million dollars to “implement Secwepemc laws in the Shuswap Nation” in Kamloops, B.C., according to Blacklock’s.