09/19/2013 12:18 EDT | Updated 11/19/2013 05:12 EST

New panel on First Nation jury representation in Ontario mostly aboriginal

TORONTO - A panel that will oversee implementation of recommendations aimed at tackling deep-rooted issues facing First Nations in Ontario's jury system will have a majority of aboriginal members, the province announced Thursday.

The 11-member panel, co-chaired by Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Irwin Glasberg, an assistant deputy attorney general, includes aboriginal leaders, current and former judges, lawyers and policy makers.

The committee was the first of 17 recommendations made by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci in February.

"A tragically disproportionate number of our First Nation and Metis members are being jailed while entire communities have been excluded from participation in the justice system," Fiddler said.

"I am hopeful that, with the Iacobucci report and the formation of the implementation committee, we can finally create fundamental change that will address this crisis."

The provincial government initially asked Iacobucci to look into the lack of First Nations representation on juries but uncovered a problem went well beyond that issue.

Aboriginals experience "systemic discrimination" when it comes to criminal justice or child services and the courts — especially in the north, he said.

"Access to justice, the administration of justice, the availability and quality of legal services, the treatment of First Nations peoples in the justice system all are wanting in northern Ontario,'' Iacobucci said.

However, the new committee will only focus on the jury issue while the province is promising to establish an advisory group — likely this fall — to deal with the broader justice issues.

Attorney General John Gerretsen said he was confident the new committee had the "right mix of professional expertise and lived experience" to help find practical ways to enhance the representation of First Nations on juries.

Among the members Megan Logan, a college student who will be its youth representative and Marc Bode, a regional senior justice in northwestern Ontario.

Other members include a former band chief, former judge, and an assistant deputy minister.

The implementation committee is meeting over two days as it seeks to thrash out a course of action.

The years-long under-representation of First Nations came to light at coroner's inquests in northern Ontario into the 2007 deaths of two aboriginals.

More recently, Ontario's top court ordered a new trial for a convicted killer because it found the province had violated his rights by failing to ensure aboriginals were properly represented on jury rolls.