Levelling barriers to justice for indigenous peoples in Canada
Canada’s history of colonialism, the legacy of residential schools and continued systemic racism, have resulted in indigenous communities facing the harshest consequences of unequal access to justice. In Canada, indigenous youth are more likely to live in poverty, drop out of high school and be involved in the criminal justice system compared to non-indigenousyouth. Compounding this, many Canadian justice professionals are ill equipped to represent indigenous communities due to a lack of cultural awareness and humility.
Level is a Canadian charity that disrupts prejudice, builds empathy, and advances human rights. The organisation pursues its mission through youth outreach, human rights research and advocacy, and by training the Canadian justice sector to recognise and respond to systemic discrimination.
Level’s Indigenous Youth Outreach Program advances reconciliation by building understanding and trust between the justice sector and indigenous communities. The First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth participants are empowered through fun and collaborative justice education and mentorship activities led by volunteer legal professionals. Throughout the three-to-six month long program, students participate in mock trials, sentencing circles, and field trips that expose them to the justice system in a positive and inspiring way. Uniquely, the program acknowledges colonial legacies, honours indigenous practices and customs, and promotes multi-directional knowledge sharing between the volunteers, indigenous youth, and other stakeholders including Elders, knowledge keepers and judges.
One grade 6 student who took part in a mock trial during the program said: “The best part was getting to stand up and be the defence lawyer for the accused. I was a little bit nervous but got comfortable when I spoke”. Taking part also encouraged her to think about her future career, “I thought a long time ago that I wanted to be a lawyer and I know I need to get a great education. We practiced in the class a lot so I got used to it. It is something to try and do. It was fun”.
Level is committed to learning from and walking with indigenous communities to co-create a better and more inclusive justice system, and to empowering indigenous youth to reach their full potential.