In 1977, John Reilly became the youngest person ever appointed as an Alberta Provincial Court Judge. After twenty years on the bench, he began to notice a disproportionate number of indigenous accused appearing in his court and resolved to learn the reasons for this overrepresentation. Through his research he discovered information about residential schools, treaties, poverty and dispossession, and the intergenerational impact this had on indigenous peoples.
Equipped with this knowledge and a corresponding shift in perspective, John began to apply a more progressive lens to his role in order to address the issues of bias and systemic racism so rampant within the justice system. He quickly realized that he was working within a broken system, and that the establishment was resistant to change. After thirty-three years on the bench, he became so disillusioned with the Canadian criminal justice system, he resigned his position more than ten years before retirement would have been mandatory.
John is now a public speaker, writer, and advocate for transforming the justice system and creating better understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.