A National Survey of Youth Justice Committees in Canada
- 4.2 Northwest Territories
In the Northwest Territories, there are a total of 30 designated YJCs, seven of which were, at the time of contact, inactive or disbanded, leaving a total of 23 active committees. The research team was able to contact 15 of these active YJCs. Additional information was obtained from two territorial officials/Regional Justice coordinators, who assisted YJCs in the North Slave and South Slave Regions in an advisory capacity. A team member attended a YCJA training session for YJCs in Yellowknife in March; a territorial official (Regional Justice coordinator) and two YJC chairs were interviewed in depth at that time.
YJCs in the Northwest Territories are called Community Justice Committees (CJCs). Most CJCs contacted did not limit their activities to considering appropriate measures in individual cases of youthful offending; they also carry out this role in cases of adult offending.
The number of volunteer members on the CJCs varied a good deal, from a low of five to a high of 22 members. Most CJCs for which detailed information was available had between five and nine members; however, the median volunteer membership was seven. One CJC was still in the process of recruiting members. In most cases, these members did not have experience working in the youth justice system or related fields such as social work. In a few cases, some committee members have working experience in education and social work. CJC members receive an honorarium for each meeting attended, with members receiving $50 each meeting and committee chairs receiving $75 each meeting.
Members are nominated by the Band or Hamlet Council and are designated by the Minister of Justice. Ideally, committees should represent the families in the community, men and women, Elders and youth and a mix of laypersons and people with some experience working with youth. Few gaps were reported from this
“ideal” CJC membership among the CJCs for which detailed information was available. In one CJC, the desire for youth members was expressed. In another, a desire for more Inuit representation was noted.
In most CJCs, Regional Justice coordinators play an advisory role, guiding the activities of CJCs, and acting as resource people to committee members. Some of the CJCs have a Board of Directors or advisory committee who guide their activities. These advisory committee members tend to be citizens drawn from the local community who also serve as members of the CJCs.
Nine out of 15 CJCs noted having a
“host agency” that provides in-kind assistance to committees (in the form of office space, administrative assistance, etc.). These host agencies varied and include local Band offices, Friendship Centres, and the John Howard Society.
With two exceptions, all of the CJCs for which information was obtained had a paid position (coordinator, administrative workers, etc.) to assist with the working of the volunteer members. In some CJCs, this position was full-time while in most it was part-time. The role of the coordinator is to handle paperwork, accept referrals, arrange hearings, act as a liaison with criminal justice representatives, and in at least one CJC, coordinate various recreational and crime prevention programs in the community on issues including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, health and wellness, and parenting, to name a few.
Most CJCs indicated that volunteers were required to undergo some kind of training before assuming their duties. Regional Justice coordinators generally delivered this training. In at least one of the CJCs, some members also participated in training made available to them through the Department of Justice and other departments within the government of the Northwest Territories. The length of training varied (with some training delivered over two days) and in some CJCs, training is ongoing. The training tended to focus on the roles and responsibilities of committee members, information on issues including drug abuse and addiction, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, spousal abuse, skills training in community justice, and completing paperwork/forms.
Gaps in training noted by at least one of the CJCs included parent-child relations, team building, recruitment and retention of volunteers, youth issues, and understanding the YCJA (in particular as it relates to alternative forms of justice, language and terminology). Five of the CJCs for which information was obtained had no formal training, although two of these wanted training or were to be provided training in the near future).
The annual amount of funds provided to CJCs (including salaries for the coordinator) varied considerably, from a low of $9,000 to a high of $90,000. The median annual funding among the 15 surveyed CJCs was $20,500.
By policy, most CJCs receive between $13,000 and $37,000 from the territorial government (depending on the size of the community). Some committees receive matched funding from the federal government, which is transferred to the territorial government for distribution. These monies generally cover program administration costs, honoraria, and in some CJCs, community crime prevention projects. Funding in the amount of $20,000 is also provided by the government of the Northwest Territories to fund the part-time coordinator position in most of the CJCs. In addition, most CJCs receive in-kind assistance from the host agency, a community group, or a government agency. Only a few of the CJCs noted receiving assistance with intake and other skilled services having to do with casework. The amount of in-kind assistance provided was viewed by some CJCs to be too little.
CJCs play a central role in responding to youthful offending. This study found that both the police and Crown attorneys often refer to the CJCs, however most referrals of individual youth come from police, at the pre-charge stage.
Typically, the offences involved in these cases are not at the more serious end of the spectrum, most often involving theft under $5000 (shoplifting), break and enters, and mischief. Minor drug and alcohol offences were noted by some CJCs. Repeat offenders are eligible for the CJC process. Nearly half of the CJCs contacted indicated that they felt the majority of cases they dealt with were somewhat serious. Among those remaining, most indicated that they felt the cases were either not very serious or not serious at all.
Many existing members did not wish to become involved in more serious crimes or participate at the post-charge level, such as sentencing or post-release supervision. There was a strong feeling that the justice system should not be
“relying on the backs of volunteers for reintegration after custody”.
The number of cases referred annually to the CJCs varied considerably from a low of one to a high of 85, with most ranging from 10 to 25 and a median annual caseload of 20 among the 15 committees surveyed. Cases tend to be decided by panels of three to five volunteer members. A meeting is held prior to the diversion with CJC members and the coordinator, at which time they discuss whether they can handle the case and what measures may be suggested at the diversion hearing with the youth. During this first meeting, the paid coordinator plays a resource/ information role for CJC members. Typically, the paid coordinator does not participate in these decisions although in some CJCs, the coordinator will attend the diversion hearing, take notes and fill out required paperwork.
Most CJCs indicated that they read the youth and parents a formal statement of their rights in the process before proceeding. Typically, victims are invited to attend, and are asked about how the offence affected them, but victim participation at hearings vary, with roughly half of the CJCs noting rare or occasional participation by victims, and the other half noting frequent or very frequent participation at hearings. In some cases, victim participation may be in the form of a victim impact statement or a letter read at the hearing by the facilitator. There was also little understanding of victims' issues and needs, and presently when victims are invited to participate, there is little or no preparation for them. When most victims refuse to attend it is judged to be because they are not ready or just do not want to be involved.
The CJC system in the Northwest Territories may be viewed as a general crime prevention program that also facilitates diversion work. However, this characterization does not acknowledge the many additional roles CJC members, including the paid coordinator, undertake including, but not limited to the following: assisting in mediation and reconciliation between youthful offenders and victims (Restorative Justice); planning and delivering crime prevention programs in the community; providing support and assistance to victims; meeting with youth, their families and community members in the form of Family Group Conferencing to address issues of youth crime; assisting youth in completing community service orders or other conditions of alternative measures; assisting youth find employment; assisting youth with school related adjustments; assisting youth in finding community support in the form of counselling, treatment and recreational programs; teaching youth about their own Aboriginal culture and traditions; and following up on the progress of youth. CJC members also perform similar activities for adult offenders. CJC members also indicated that they offer advice to the courts and other members of the criminal justice system on how to deal with youth crime, although it was acknowledged that this role is performed less frequently.
In general, there was support expressed for CJCs to take on roles other than considering the appropriate measures in individual cases of youthful offending. Some of these roles, such as providing advice to youth courts on sentencing of individual youthful offenders, may become more prevalent with the introduction of the YCJA. Additional training was viewed as necessary by some CJCs if they are to take on certain roles, including providing advice to youth courts on the sentencing of individual youthful offenders, conducting mediation or reconciliation between youthful offenders and victims, and providing support and assistance to victims.
Some communities raised concerns regarding the sustainability of the CJCs, as well as the implications of the YCJA.
- In smaller communities, the same people volunteer for several committees and ultimately tend to burn out. Some have taken a break and returned. In other instances, recruiting for new members has been required;
- The need to increase liaison work between justice committees and the RCMP. A few of the CJCs cited a lack of support from police, Crown attorneys, and the youth justice system generally, as well as the community at large;
- At least one site remarked on the insufficient number of referrals to sustain the program;
- The need for increased funding and administrative support and ongoing training especially in understanding victim issues;
- A need for more community resources to meet the needs of youth (e.g. community service order [CSO] placements, mentoring, etc.) was also noted. CJCs are often the only organized resource in smaller communities;
- The lack of victim participation was also identified, as was the need to develop new means to recruit victims to diversion hearings.
CJC Chairs were concerned about how the major points of the YCJA could be translated and explained to Elders and others who do not speak English or French (problems regarding literacy were noted in some communities). Many found the YCJA confusing. For example, some were concerned that conferencing does not identify any community decision makers, as was the original intent of “family group conferencing”. They also found the distinction between extrajudicial measures and sanctions to be confusing. To address these potential problems, the need for further training was noted. Inadequate resources to fulfill expanded potential roles were also noted by at least one CJC. Given that the onus is on police to provide formal cautions, warnings, and referrals to justice committees, some members worried that the RCMP will not be able to do so for all communities, as their presence is limited, and for some communities, there is no resident RCMP presence. Some members were also worried about the lack of resources in some communities for programming referrals from CJCs.
There are plans to discuss the implications of the new act with some of the CJCs. All committees in the South Slave region (seven) have received training since the YCJA came into effect. One CJC Chair was pleased with the fact that CJCs are now being recognized and included when it comes to conferences and when pre-sentence reports are ordered.
In order to make the program more sustainable, the need for more commitment, volunteers, training, and ongoing financial support were identified. The need for more cases to sustain the program was also noted by at least one CJC (“people need to feel needed”).
When asked if the CJC is sustainable - if it will still be around in a few years' time - most of those who responded thought the program is sustainable, despite the pressures and problems faced by committees, and the community more generally, that will be brought on by the YCJA.
- Program Philosophy
- There was strong support for healing approaches, placing some of the responsibility for crime prevention back in the community, re-creating an indigenous approach to youth crime, taking back local authority over justice issues and creating more tailored responses for troubled youth. However, the need for support for these approaches is seen as a major problem (e.g. more youth support groups, programs for referrals, etc.).
- Program Eligibility
- A fear of taking on more than minor offence cases was expressed. At the Yellowknife training session, there was also a long discussion about fetal alcohol problems, how to recognize it and the few resources available in the territory to deal with it.
- Involvement at Sentencing
- One coordinator of an active CJC indicated that there is a danger of the justice committee being involved in making recommendations about sentencing to the judge, and the community then holding CJC members responsible for the sentence if it is viewed to be harsh.
- Best Practices
- One Regional Justice coordinator summarized the benefits of the CJC noted by several CJC Chairs as follows:
“I think the fact that the Department of Justice here in the NWT has a Division of Community Justice with Regional Justice coordinators in every region is a plus, this allows for the community to have the outside support available to them for training, guidance and support. The Division also funds the committee, which is also a big help. I have found that the concept Community Justice was readily accepted when I began introducing it to the communities in 1993, as it wasn't something new to the majority of the residents. Elders recalled that at one time, this was the way justice matters were handled prior to when the RCMP, courts, etc. were in the NWT. So it wasn't a hard sell!! I also believe the members involved believe this is a better way of doing things and they are committed individuals who want to assist anyone in crime, as well as try to prevent crime with youth.”
- Net widening
- Net widening was not viewed as a negative or unintended impact of CJCs, although one respondent did remark that net widening could be an issue at the pre-charge stage.
- Understanding of Victim Issues
- The fact that untrained people are to bring youthful offenders and victims together in face-to-face meetings with little understanding of the dynamics or suitable processes is a concern. The need for ongoing training was noted.
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