Review of the Nunavut Community Justice Program: Final Report

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Community Justice Program began in 1993 under the Government of the Northwest Territories and continued under the Government of Nunavut from April 1, 1999. The aim of the Nunavut Department of Justice is to support communities in taking greater responsibility for offenders and victims. The Department has also emphasized prevention and healing at the community level in an attempt to shift complete reliance away from the mainstream approaches involving formal charges, court appearances and incarceration. A significant aspect of this approach is the importance of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit traditional knowledge - referred to as IQ) as a basic premise underlying the Program.

The review of the Nunavut Community Justice Program is based first on consultations with Community Justice Committees and other community programs[1] in four communities: Pangnirtung, Rankin Inlet, Arviat and Iqaluit. Second, the review involved interviews with key community members working directly or indirectly with the justice system in Nunavut. Third, available documents and statistics were reviewed as part of the process.

The Community Justice Program consists of a Director of Corrections and Community Justice, an Assistant Director of Community Justice; five Regional Community Justice Specialists, as well as a Community Justice Committee Coordinator for each community. The mandate, goals and objectives of the Community Justice Program address the need to strengthen community-based justice processes and outcomes, but also the need to increase community responsibility for and involvement in the handling of crime. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is seen as part of the process.

Pangnirtung, Rankin Inlet and Arviat have relatively stable and effective Community Justice Committees. Although the Iqaluit Restorative Justice Society began operations in November 2003 and is still establishing itself, the Society is taking diversions from police and the Court. In all four cases, regardless of the strength of the committee, there are challenges that require remedial action. These problems are equally or more serious in other communities with less stable Community Justice Committees.

The report arrives at several conclusions based on the research findings. They are organized according to the three major questions that formed the basis for the terms of the project.

Is the Community Justice Program meeting its mandate and objectives as currently established?

Generally, it appears that the Community Justice Program is meeting its current mandate and objectives. Significant progress has been made by many Community Justice Committees in terms of handling referrals of youth and adult cases from the RCMP and the court. It also appears that many of the committees have the respect of their communities, Hamlet Councils, and other professionals in the community. Further, it appears that the most effective of the Community Justice Committees may be having an impact on re-offending in their communities. It is also possible that the work of some committees may even be reducing first offences, although this would be difficult to confirm in the scope of this review.

There are some concerns, however.

Community Justice Coordinators

In some cases, the Coordinator position appears to be a weak link in the process. This is a problem, in part, because it is difficult to attract qualified individuals to the job. There is general agreement that this is primarily due to the fact that the Coordinators are underpaid and that the jobs are only part-time. There is also inadequate funding to train the Coordinators properly. Until these problems are addressed and all Coordinators are able to perform their tasks effectively, the Regional Community Justice Specialists will continue to carry much of the burden of running the administrative aspects of the program.

Justice Committee Membership

The process for selecting and appointing members of the Community Justice Committees requires refinement and standardization to ensure that the most appropriate community members are on the committees. This matter is currently being addressed by the development of committee membership criteria.

The Role of Hamlets

While many of the Hamlets cooperate efficiently with the program, in some cases there may be a problem with the allocation of program funds. As well, some Hamlets are slow to provide the required financial statements regarding the program budget for the community.

Infrastructure

In many cases Community Justice Committees still do not have adequate, dedicated space where the committee can hold meetings, engage in counseling or mediation, or where the Coordinator can work. This is a serious issue, especially in view of the sensitive nature of the committees' work and the need for confidentiality.

Victim Involvement

There are concerns about the relationship between the community justice program and the policy directives of the RCMP. At the national and divisional RCMP Headquarters, restorative justice is defined as involving the victim in every case. Community Justice Committees, on the other hand, involve the victim when the victim agrees to participate and may otherwise counsel only the offender as long as the victim agrees. The committees, which often comprise mostly Elders, have been given the mandate to engage in community based justice according to Inuit ways. Traditionally, the victim was not involved in the process in many instances. This is a complex question and the explanation would require focused research beyond the scope of this review. However, examples are in evidence throughout this report.

The difference between the emerging official RCMP view and the approach of the Community Justice Committees is a potentially serious issue. To date, it appears that detachment commanders are setting the pre-charge referral policy in their communities. In many cases, this means that the police are diverting cases even though they know the victim may not be directly involved. In other communities, the RCMP may not be referring cases for this reason. It has been and may still be an issue in Iqaluit, for example. If Divisional Headquarters decides to force the issue, it may mean that detachment commanders will be required to stop pre-charge diversions.

Reporting

In some communities the reporting relationship between the committee, on one hand, and the RCMP and Crown Prosecutor, on the other hand, is not as effective as it should be. The police and the Crown Prosecutor always need to be apprised of the status of referrals as they are dealt with by the committees. This is not a serious problem as the reporting relationship works well in many communities and could easily be improved in the others.

Planning

The Specialists recently engaged in a five-year planning exercise. However, committees and Coordinators have not been involved in planning exercises with respect to their own communities. It is the belief of committees and community consultees that yearly planning by the committees would assist the program.

Outcome Measures and Monitoring

Outcome measures and effective monitoring procedures have not been put in place for the program. The implementation of the Nunavut Community Justice Agreement Form should help in terms of providing timely data on each case as it proceeds, as long as the Coordinators provide the information needed to monitor individual cases and, by extension, the program as a whole.

Do the mandate and structure of the Community Justice Program reflect the Program's current and future needs?

Generally the mandate and structure of the program are adequate to meet Nunavut's community justice needs. While there are some concerns regarding program operations and funding, the major concern may be the one about the differences between the RCMP and the Community Justice Committees in terms of their definitions of restorative justice or community justice. The question becomes one of whether the committees are authorized to proceed in ways that they define according to Inuit traditions. Specifically, the issue is whether victims must always be actively involved in the process.

Does the Community Justice Program provide effective alternatives to the formal justice system?

The consensus view is that the Community Justice Program is providing an effective alternative to the formal justice system. Further, community consultees in all categories agree that the program is improving as time passes. It should be said that, while some specific concerns were raised in both the consultations and in the interviews with key community members, there is general agreement that the program is performing a valuable function and that it holds potential for even greater positive impacts in the communities.

Summary of Recommendations

  1. The present method of funding Community Justice Committees should be reassessed. Per capita allocation to communities may be inappropriate as some committees are not using their funds as effectively as possible, while other committees are effective but could use more funds. Nunavut Justice Headquarters, together with the Specialists, should take the following steps. First, each Specialist should engage in a yearly planning session with her committees[2]. These sessions should be adequately funded and facilitated by a professional. Second, each committee should be assessed yearly on (a) its plans and their potential cost-effectiveness, and (b) the capacity of the committee to carry out the plan. Funds would then be allocated accordingly by Nunavut Justice Headquarters. While overall resources would remain limited, the process just described would help to rationalize the distribution of those resources.
  2. Nunavut Justice Headquarters, together with the Specialists, should ensure that territory-wide program outcome measures are developed and implemented. Subsequently, the Community Justice Program should be assessed on a community-by-community basis each year. This need not be an elaborate or expensive exercise and can be done largely using data provided by the Coordinators (see Recommendation 3) and telephone interviews with key community members such as police, Crown Prosecutors, and elders.
  3. Coordinators should keep complete and accurate records of all referrals to the committees. In particular, it is essential that Coordinators complete the Nunavut Community Justice Agreement Form in as much detail as possible. In addition, the Coordinators should record for each referral the following information on the role of the victim: (a) whether the victim gave permission for the referral to proceed; (b) whether the victim participated in the process; and, (c) if the victim participated, the specifics of her/his role. It is also important for the Coordinators to provide some detail on the nature of the intervention chosen by the committee. For example, did the committee engage in traditional counseling of the offender alone; mediation between the offender and the victim; family group conferencing; etc? Details about the intervention and about who participated in each intervention (for example, parents, committee members) would also be useful information to record. Finally, Coordinators should include on the form, or at least in their case records, the degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the process and the outcome by the offender and the victim. The reasons for these assessments should also be recorded.
  4. Community Justice Committees should attempt to involve the victim in the community justice process. In cases when the victim chooses not to participate but does not disagree with the community justice process, Community Justice Committees should then decide, using their own criteria, whether to proceed with counseling for the offender. The RCMP and the Crown Prosecutors should respect the decisions of the committees and should continue to refer cases when the victim may not be directly involved, as just described and under the following conditions: a) the victim does not disagree with the community justice process in their case; b) the committee has determined that the victim's vulnerability is not increased by proceeding in this way and c) there is no risk of re-victimizating the victim by the case being processed through the committee rather than going through the court procedure.
  5. Nunavut Justice should meet with the RCMP and, if necessary, with Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada and Justice Canada regarding the emerging RCMP policy of diverting cases only if the victim will be involved in the process. In the interest of respecting Inuit approaches to managing problems in Inuit communities, Community Justice Committees should have the right to make the decision as to whether the committee will handle a case even if the victim chooses not to participate (but gives his/her consent to the community justice process).
  6. Nunavut Justice should do a community-by-community assessment as to the need for a full-time Coordinator. In those communities where the workload is deemed to warrant a full-time Coordinator, adequate funding should be provided.
  7. Coordinators should be paid at a standard rate that is competitive with other jobs of similar level in the communities. Coordinator positions should be made permanent and Coordinators should receive the full benefits package enjoyed by other Government of Nunavut employees.
  8. Coordinators should have a standard job description that can be modified by individual Community Justice Committees to meet specific committee needs and approaches. Nunavut Justice Headquarters would be in a position to assess the modifications for approval.
  9. Coordinators should be hired on the basis of standard criteria. Draft criteria have been prepared by one of the Specialists and are currently being circulated. Interviews should be undertaken by the Community Justice Committee together with the relevant Specialist.
  10. Training should be an ongoing component of the Community Justice Program. Ongoing funding is needed to ensure that committee members, Coordinators and Specialists receive relevant training in a timely manner. Committee members require training in the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), family group conferencing and, possibly, in the community justice forum approach. Coordinators require training in the techniques just mentioned, as well as money management and accounting, reporting, and planning and priority setting. Specialists and the Assistant Director, Community Justice, must also be current in all these areas.
  11. Community Justice Committees require dedicated space for their counseling and mediation activities. Coordinators need dedicated space to perform their administrative duties and keep files securely. Nunavut Justice should discuss the provision of this space with Hamlets and fund space rental where needed.
  12. The current system of appointment to Community Justice Committees should be revised so that it is standard across Nunavut, fair and equitable, and ensures that the best candidates are appointed. The draft guidelines currently being shared should be considered seriously by all Committees and Hamlets.
  13. Several Community Justice Committees do not have the understanding of their communities. Therefore, they lack the solid and active community support they need in order to operate most effectively. Those committees should attempt to bridge the gap by (a) making yearly presentations to their Hamlet Councils on their mandate and progress, and (b) engaging with the community through radio shows and social events. Community events can also be viewed as crime prevention activities.
  14. Every Community Justice Committee in Nunavut should seriously examine and consider signing the draft Diversion Protocol and Agreement (see Appendix 4) which is currently being reviewed. If minor modifications are required in order to align the document with community needs and realities, this should be done.
  15. Some committees have the capacity to implement and maintain land programs and other cultural programs (such as sewing classes) for youth and, possibly, adults. In cases when committees express an interest in maintaining a land or cultural program, and when those committees develop a sound plan and are judged by Justice Headquarters and the Specialists to have the capacity to handle such programs, Headquarters should make every effort to secure the required funds.
  16. Justices of the Peace are sometimes reluctant to refer cases to the Community Justice Committees because they are unclear as to how the committees work. In those communities where Justices of the Peace are not referring cases, the committee should make a point of meeting with the Justice of the Peace and explaining its mandate and mode of operation. Together they should come to an agreement about case referral.
  17. Coordinators should submit a copy of their status reports on referred cases to Crown Prosecutors, as well as to Community Justice Specialists and to police.
  18. Community Justice Committees, Crown Prosecutors, Judges and Specialists should consider - at some future point - the possibility of committees taking on post-conviction counseling as part of judicial probation orders. At this time, with some exceptions, the capacity of committees is not up to this task.
  19. The Rankin Inlet Victim Support Program needs funding to enable it to prepare victims for family group conferencing sessions run by the Community Justice Committee.

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