Inuit Women and the Nunavut Justice System

4. Community-based Justice

4. Community-based Justice

4.1 Community-based Justice Initiatives

Community-based justice initiatives were first introduced in Nunavut by the GNWT in the early 1990s. These initiatives were presented as a means to address the many long-standing problems identified by Aboriginal peoples in the NWT communities. The program had its foundation in principles of restorative justice which focus on healing damaged relationships to restore harmony within the family and the community, rather than on punishment.[68] This approach was seen as compatible with and easily incorporating the teachings of Aboriginal people emphasizing healing, respect, cooperation and balance.[69] As such, the process of resolving conflicts in a way that repairs, heals, and restores harmony includes the victim, the offender, and the community.

The initiatives introduced by the GNWT included:

  • the promotion of a community-based justice system, consisting of local justice committees supported by a community justice specialist, employed by the GNWT to serve a specific region;
  • the promotion of alternative measures to the existing criminal justice system such as the adult court diversion program set up in Baffin regional communities; and
  • the promotion of sentencing alternatives, especially by Justices of the Peace such as reparative sanctions (ie. probation requiring community service work, rehabilitation, and restitution to the victim) and on the land programs for young offenders; [70]

Officially, the Nunavut government has said little about the community-based justice initiatives it intends to pursue. Likewise, Bill C-57 did not address this area directly.

4.1.1 The Program

The most obvious departure from the previous government’s program and policies is the Nunavut Government’s current endeavour to incorporate Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) as a fundamental policy and operating principle of its work. Translated into English, IQ refers to the traditional knowledge of Inuit. What the IQ policy is and its relationship to the workings of the various departments is still being sorted out. The example readily presented (by most Nunavut government officials, including those in the Department of Justice) to describe the role of IQ in policy development is the incorporation of the knowledge of Inuit hunterswith western scientific knowledge when it comes to management of wildlife resources. What IQ means for the justice system is not so apparent but this approach could compliment the recommendations of the NSDC.

The NSDC Justice Conference report links the need to give local people greater control over justice matters in their communities with expanded roles for existing justice bodies in the community such as the justice committees and JPs. The report calls upon JPs and justice committees to work more closely together and proposes ways in which this can be achieved.

In his remarks at the conference, the President of the NSDC, Elijah Erkloo identified the need for Inuit to take on a greater role in community justice issues:

We want to know how we can allow Inuit to take more responsibility for dealing with justice issues at the community level, in ways which respect our traditional values and beliefs. …This meeting is about Inuit taking more responsibility for justice issues in their communities. …We want to come up with clear recommendations about what more we can be doing in our communities that we are not doing now. We want to know how the Nunavut justice system can bring peace to Inuit.[71]

The Nunavut government has recognized that the former community-based justice initiative lacked the necessary infrastructure to support the committees operating in the communities. The Nunavut Department of Justice has indicated it is committed to providing adequate physical space for the committees to carry out their work. As well, it will encourage the development of a communications network between the various justice committees and provide ongoing training for committee members. Information regarding the type and subject matter of this training was not provided. Whether individuals participating on the committees will be paid for this public service that they provide voluntarily is still an unanswered question.

Within Nunavut there remain four community justice specialists operating as the link between the Department of Justice and the community. The title and role of the “specialists” are being reconsidered by the Department. The four individuals operating in Kitikmeot, Keewatin, North Baffin and South Baffin as community justice specialists are expected to take on the role and responsibilities of coordinating and supporting community justice committees within the communities of their region. The Nunavut Department of Justice is committed to having the coordinators assist in the design and delivery of the community-based justice committees’ work. This change in roles also reflects a broader, perhaps, philosophical shift – from the “specialist” or “expert” directing the community to the “coordinator” who assists and supports the community in its work.

4.1.2 Community Justice Committees

The GNWT program adopted by the Nunavut government empowers community justice committees to operate within the communities once a motion is passed by the hamlet council recognizing the authority of its community justice committee to deal with cases involving youths and/or adults. Pursuant to the the Young Offenders Act, the territorial government will formally appoint members to the community justice committees to deal with cases involving Inuit youth upon concluding an agreement with the hamlet council.

In some cases in the past, adult offences, including minor cases of wife assault, have been diverted to the community-based justice committees according to protocols signed by the federal Crown counsel office (since the federal government retains the prosecutorial powers in Nunavut), the RCMP, and hamlet councils.

For the most part, whether or not a protocol existed, it appears that in Nunavut, criminal cases have been and continue to be diverted to these committees at the discretion of the Crown and the RCMP.

The Nunavut Department of Justice has indicated that it would include, as its parties, the chairs of the community justice committees, Crown Counsel, RCMP and the Nunavut Department of Justice. It appears this new diversion protocol compliments the NSDC recommendations regarding the involvement of the justice committees and JPs in the important decision-making processes. For example and as discussed below, the NSDC recommends that the with RCMP and Crown Attorney’s office powers to determine which cases be diverted should be shared with the committees and JPs of the community.

The NSDC report recommends that the justice committees take on the following tasks to improve their effectiveness in their respective communities:

  • strengthen and increase capability, through the use of traditional ways and elders, and through ongoing training and networking;
  • deal with serious matters, including domestic violence;
  • deal with matters brought to them by community members and groups, not only the RCMP;
  • communicate with RCMP to deal with problem quickly;
  • require better community awareness and respect for these committees; and
  • teach young people about traditional values.

As commitment to greater Inuit control over justice matters, the NSDC report recommends that committees join with JPs to be responsible for hearing serious crimes by first time offenders and also dealing with repeat offenders for crimes that are not serious offences. The report does not clarify what it considers to fall within or outside of the category of serious offences. However, there is specific reference made to the justice committees dealing with “domestic violence". The specific role of the committee in dealing with these cases (for example: at what stage of the process) is not clarified. The report suggests that the committee could assist the JP and higher courts in proposing and implementing sentences in cases involving these offences.[72]

4.1.3 Committee Methods

In the NSDC report, consultation is identified as a fundamental component of resolving disputes. The consultation method used and participants involved depend upon the nature of the offence. As stated in the NSDC justice report, traditionally, where there was a breach of rules, a consultation process would have to take place. Where it was a minor offence, the consultation would be within the family. If the breach resulted in a major offence, the consultation would be within the community.[73]

Consultation appears to be at the heart of many of the diversion programs commonly used by justice committees in Nunavut today. While the government program uses different labels for the methods such as victim/offender mediation, family group conferencing, basically the committee consults with the offender, individuals impacted by the offence and other community members in determining what is needed to “make things right.”

The following is a general description of the established GNWT criteria for a matter diverted to a community justice committee:

  • The offender accepts responsibility for the offence;
  • The offender voluntarily agrees to work with the Community Justice Committee;
  • The victim can have a role in the proceedings, and in any case, is consulted to determine what needs to be done to “make things right.” If the victim is not actually present during the Justice Committee meeting, the victim’s statement will be used.
  • At the meeting(s), the Community Justice Committee serves to take the offender through the following process:
  1. the offender is required to take responsibility for the behaviour;
  2. the offender is assisted to explore the consequences of his actions;
  3. the offender commits to repair the harm through an agreement; and
  4. the offender looks for guidance to turn towards a healthier life style;
  • At any time the offender can have the matter referred back to the RCMP;
  • A Community Justice Committee can reject a referral from an RCMP officer.

The GNWT program identifies victim-offender mediation and family group conferencing as possible methods of resolving problems. Where the victim-offender mediation model is used, the victim and offender meet face to face. The role of the committee is to act as a mediator and to focus attention on problem solving. The committee moves through the same four-stage process described above.

Family group conferencing is a method which the RCMP has strongly supported throughout the north. It is unclear whether support for this alternative among some committees is a result of its being a primary alternative supported by the RCMP or because it complements Inuit traditional practices and values.

In the GNWT family group conferencing method, the committee is supposed to bring together a circle made up of the victim, the offender, the community and all of their respective support persons for a family group conference. The process is to address such issues as the offender’s behaviour and the impact of the offender’s behaviour on the victim. A facilitator appointed by the community justice committee helps the parties arrive at an appropriate solution to compensate the victim and ensures that meaningful consequences are established for the offender. If consensus is not reached, the case returns to the RCMP for processing through the courts.

The NSDC Justice Conference made specific recommendations dealing with family group conferencing. The NSDC report notes that family group conferencing is being practised “with great success” in the Kitikmeot region. The NSDC report endorses this initiative and indicates that it can be provided by community residents and adapted to suit a particular community once training is provided. The report states that “it has the great effect of getting everyone involved and making the offender realize the consequences of his/her actions and recognize that there is community support and concern.”[74] The NSDC conference report calls upon government to provide training in family group conferencing in all regions of Nunavut.[75] According to the NSDC report, “family group conferencing training also provides a way for our young people to feel important and involved, to take responsibility for their actions in a meaningful way. … Family Group Conferencing [sic] gets everyone together who is involved, in an informal setting, when there is agreement to participate.”[76]

4.1.4 Community Justice Committee – Membership

A guide was prepared by the GNWT setting out the basic guidelines to be followed when setting up a community justice committee. It described participants as respected members of the community; they must not be involved in criminal or otherwise offensive activities; and they could not have been convicted of a criminal offence in the last three years. In addition, committee members must represent a broad cross-section of the community, and should be able to contribute a wide range of experience and knowledge.[77]

Within Nunavut, there is no uniformity to the membership or operation of community justice committees. Where committees exist, they operate on a voluntary basis and vary in size and mandate. On the latter point, it appears that the role of a committee is dependent on the willingness of the Crown and RCMP to recognize and work with the committee and the commitment of its membership.

The community justice committee is considered by NSDC as the vehicle by which elders can play a vital role. The NSDC recognizes that the elders are essential to ensuring those using and providing committee services do not lose touch with Inuit traditions. It acknowledges that committees have been used in the past as tools for the defence[78] and now must take the whole community into account, including the victims and their families. However, the means by which this goal will be met are not clarified.


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