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Dreamcatcher 22 : commissions of inquiry and Aboriginal criminal justice reforms Schlecker, Regan Dawn

Abstract

The last decade has seen the development of an unprecedented profile for aboriginal concerns over the inadequacies of the criminal justice system. This thesis examines the major commissions of inquiry that were established to address criminal justice reforms for aboriginal Canadians. Through a comparison of these inquiries, it is my intention to provide a greater understanding as to why some commissions have had a more positive role to play in initiating policy change, while others have been less than satisfactory in promoting the needs of aboriginal persons. Analysis reveals that commissions of inquiry are most often established to address more general concerns about the impact of the criminal justice system on aboriginal peoples, rather than to investigate specific cases in which there was a miscarriage of justice. My findings also reveal that the current criminal justice system can and should be improved, without in any way detracting from the movement toward the larger social, political and economic goal of self- determination. Due to the fact that autonomous solutions remain prevalent in the academic literature, future inquiries will be required to acknowledge this perspective. An appreciation of the variety of concerns held by aboriginal individuals can only be made possible through extensive consultation with aboriginal communities and utilizing creative and innovative means of gathering research. By providing an open process, commissions will be able to encompass views that may not be prevalent in academic circles, but accepted at a grass roots level. On the much larger question of the policy impact of commissions of inquiry, they have been useful institutions for opening up the policy debate in regards to criminal justice reforms for aboriginal Canadians. Frequently these inquiries have been faulted because their specific recommendations are not accepted. However, inquiries are valuable because they provide one of the few occasions for defining public issues, including debate about reformist and radical conceptions of the issues. Consequently it is more useful to assess commissions of inquiry for their role in the development of policy debate.

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