Aboriginal Justice Strategy Mid-Term Evaluation, Final Report

2. Description of the Aboriginal Justice Strategy

As a result of the significant overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the Canadian criminal justice system, the federal government elected to introduce measures designed to reduce the rate of victimization, crime and incarceration within Aboriginal communities. The following provides a brief history[10] of the AJS, followed by an overview of the current Strategy mandate as established in 2007.

2.1. Aboriginal Justice Strategy/Aboriginal Justice Directorate History

The Department of Justice launched the Aboriginal Justice Initiative (AJI) in 1991 as part of an overall federal Aboriginal crime strategy. The AJI supported a range of community-based justice pilot projects across Canada, including diversion programs, community participation in sentencing offenders, mediation, and arbitration mechanisms for civil disputes. In 1996, partly in response to the Royal Commission's reports and recommendations, the federal government renewed and expanded the AJI, renaming it the Aboriginal Justice Strategy. A number of stakeholders including Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Privy Council Office, the former Office of the Solicitor General (now Public Safety Canada), and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were involved in the development of the AJS.

By 2001, the AJS had expanded to eight provinces and three territories. In 2002, it was renewed as a five-year mandate and received additional funding. The renewed strategy included a cost-sharing program with the provinces/territories to address service gaps in urban, off-reserve and Métis populations. By 2003, the AJS achieved full national scope with all ten provinces and three territories included in the new cost-sharing structure. The AJS was most recently renewed for another five-year term in 2007 with enhanced funding.

2.2. Description of the Enhanced Aboriginal Justice Strategy

The 2007 Budget announced an initial enhanced funding investment of $14.5 million over two years (2007/08 and 2008/09). In August 2008, the Minister of Justice confirmed that the AJS had in fact been renewed for a full five years (2007 - 2012), and that the total enhanced funding would represent a $40 million investment over this five-year period ($6 million in 2007/08, and $8.5 million each year from 2008/09 to 2011/12). Enhanced funding allowed the AJS to expand its reach into areas of high need, such as urban, northern, and off-reserve Aboriginal communities, in addition to focusing on Aboriginal youth. Overall, it will bring the total federal investment in the AJS from 1991 - 2012 to $85 million.

The funding allocations for the first two years of the renewed Strategy are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1: AJS Funding 2007/08 and 2008/09
Year 2007/08 2008/09
Total Grants $ 260,000 $ 29,105
Total Contributions $11,110,000 $12,020,895
Total Program Activity $11,370,000 $12,050,000

Source: Departmental Reports 2007/08 and 2008/09

The two funding components of the current AJS mandate are described below.[11]

2.2.1. Community-based Justice Programs

Community-based Justice Programs have been the cornerstone of the AJS since its inception. This component of the Strategy provides support to culturally relevant community-based justice programs, in partnership with Aboriginal communities and provincial and territorial governments. Community-based programs are centred on the following objectives:[12]

  • to help reduce the rates of crime and incarceration among Aboriginal people in communities with cost-shared programs;
  • to allow Aboriginal people the opportunity to assume greater responsibility for the administration of justice in their communities; and
  • to foster improved responsiveness, fairness, inclusiveness and effectiveness of the justice system with respect to justice and its administration so as to meet the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal people.

Examples of program models funded under the AJS include: diversion, the development of pre-sentencing options, community sentencing alternatives (circles), the use of justices of the peace, family and civil mediation, and additional community justice services such as victims support for offender-reintegration services which support the overall goals of the AJS.

The most recent program renewal in 2007 allowed the AJS to expand the reach of existing program services and to support the development of new Community-based Justice Programs, paying particular attention to geographic/regional imbalances in programming as well as opportunities to develop new programs in underrepresented areas (e.g. civil and family mediation).

To be eligible for Community-based Justice Program funding, proposed and existing communities must fulfill AJS objectives and belong to one of the following groups:

  • Bands, First Nations, Tribal Councils, local, regional or national Aboriginal organizations;
  • agencies or institutions of regional/municipal governments;
  • non-profit community organizations, societies, or associations that have voluntarily formed for a non-profit purpose; or
  • provincial or territorial governments, in the case of flow-through agreements.

2.2.2 The Capacity Building Fund

The Capacity Building Fund is designed to support capacity-building efforts in Aboriginal communities, particularly as they relate to building increased knowledge and skills for the establishment and management of Community-based Justice Programs. Specifically, the objectives of the Capacity Building Fund are:

  • to support the training and/or development needs of Aboriginal communities that do not have community-based justice programs;
  • to supplement the ongoing training needs of current community-based justice programs where the cost-shared budget does not adequately meet these needs, including supporting evaluation activities, data collection, sharing of best practices and useful models;
  • to support activities targeted at improved community reporting in AJS communities and the development of a data management system;
  • to support the development of new justice programs, paying particular attention to:
    • the current geographic/regional imbalance in programming;
    • the commitment to develop new programs in the underrepresented program models, such as dispute resolution for civil and family/child welfare; and
  • to support one-time or annual events and initiatives (as opposed to ongoing projects and programs) that build connections, trust and partnership between the mainstream justice system and Aboriginal communities.

Projects supported under the Capacity Building Fund can receive funding up to a maximum of $20,000 per fiscal year per contribution agreement. These projects may or may not be cost-shared with other organizations.

To be eligible for Capacity Building Fund funding, proposed and existing communities must fulfill AJS objectives and belong to one of the following groups:

  • Bands, First Nations, Tribal Councils, local, regional or national Aboriginal organizations;
  • agencies or institutions of regional/municipal governments;
  • non-profit community organizations, societies, or associations that have voluntarily formed for a non-profit purpose;
  • provincial or territorial governments, in the case of flow-through agreements,
  • individuals; or
  • for-profit corporations, so long as these corporations will not make a profit on the work performed.

2.2.3. The AJS Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working Group

The AJD is also responsible for co-chairing the AJS F/P/T working group, which consists of representatives from the Department of Justice, the provinces and territories. The mandate for the working group is to:

  • serve as a resource on issues related to AJS programs and on issues related to Aboriginal people in the justice system;
  • serve as a forum for exchanging information, sharing best practices and engaging members on various AJS issues;
  • provide advice on AJS programs' cost-sharing issues, including the negotiation, monitoring and implementation of contribution agreements;
  • advise on the potential impact of new policy changes on the AJS and its clients;
  • develop possible approaches and undertake evaluation and research activities to support the provision of effective AJS program delivery;
  • establish, participate and maintain F/P/T working groups or other such bodies to handle specific portions of its mandate (e.g. evaluation activities, data collection); and,
  • ensure linkages with other F/P/T groups, such as the F/P/T working group on Aboriginal justice, the F/P/T working group on the Aboriginal Courtwork Program and the F/P/T working group on victims of crime.

2.2.4. Aboriginal Law and Strategic Policy

The Aboriginal Law and Strategic Policy (ALSP) Group provides strategic policy support to the AJD. The general policy work undertaken by the ALSP on Aboriginal justice issues assists the AJD in improving justice outcomes for Aboriginal people and increasing Aboriginal community involvement in the administration of justice. This work takes place within a legal and policy framework designed to be responsive to current government priorities and emerging social and legal trends and realities. The ALSP's overarching legal and strategic policy work in the area of Aboriginal justice provides support for the AJS, particularly in relation to increasing collaboration and horizontality within the federal government and also the wider F/P/T Aboriginal justice context.

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