Saturday, January 24, 2009

Justice will take the form of a circle

After ten years of study and formulating plans to make it part of the process, the Prince Rupert Aboriginal Justice Society signed on with both the federal and provincial governments, creating a protocol agreement to provide for a justice system outside of the provincial courtroom scenario.

The alternative measures will feature a traditional circle, where offenders will meet with their victims, a law enforcement representative and a Justice coordinator, the hopeful outcome being a sense of redress for the victims, while at the same time providing for a form of community service, under the program fines or imprisonment would not be considered as a form of punishment for the offence.

Should the offender not meet the terms of the agreement, their charges are immediately sent back to the Crown and possible court action.

The Daily News outlined the terms and background of the program in the Friday paper.

Agreement all about searching for justice
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Friday, January 23, 2009
Pages one and two

After working in the community for nearly 10 years, the Prince Rupert Aboriginal Justice Society has signed a formal partnership with both provincial and federal government agencies.

Yesterday, the society signed a protocol agreement with a number of agencies, an official recognition of the alternative measures used to deal with offenders outside of provincial courtrooms. Those agencies include the Prince Rupert Detachment of the RCMP, the Attorney General of British Columbia, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Community Corrections, and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

"Until now there was no formal structure as to how we get referrals, the processes, and the roles and responsibilities clarifying relationships between us and these agencies," said Teresa Wesley, manager of the Prince Rupert Aboriginal Justice Society.

"We had always talked about it, but with the turnover at the RCMP all the time, and the Crown always getting new players, the relationships had almost deteriorated."

The PRAJS operates largely based on the notion that Aboriginal people in the area have traditionally used a collective process for legal conflict resolution, which provides a basis for the protocol.

One of the main ways the Justice Society resolves a conflict is through a traditional circle, where the offender meets with their victim(s), a law enforcement official and Justice Coordinator.

During the circle, the offenders have the opportunity to admit their guilt, explain their actions and recognize how they affected the victim and the community as a whole.

The victims also have the chance to address the offender, and recommend an appropriate agreement that will rectify the wrongdoing. The agreement can include things such as community service, but not fines or imprisonment, and if the offender doesn't meet the terms of the agreement their charges are immediately sent back to the Crown and possible court action.

"What we have found, as we have gotten on in years, is that offenders, both youth and adults, will opt to go to court because it's easier and they don't have to talk," said Wesley.
"It takes a lot of courage to say 'look I did this and I'm really sorry', We've had some really significant transformations with youth that have come through. We counted last year and there were 12 of them graduating. I had parents come to me and say that they thought if their child had gone to court there would have been a different outcome."

These traditional justice circles can also be held for offenders who have already gone through the judicial process but are awaiting sentencing. The results of the circle, or in some cases community consultation, can be included in a presentence report that is submitted to Crown counsel and the presiding judge.

The PRATS has operated since 1999 based on Section 717 of the Criminal Code, which gives Crown Counsel the discretion to deal with offenders by alternative measures outside of the judicial process, as long as the protection of the public is not an issue. However, as laid out in the new agreement, this diversion from criminal charges is not intended to be available to every offender and for every offence. Rather, it is meant for younger adults and those with no criminal record who have committed minor offences.

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