Nunavut Justice Issues: An Annotated Bibliography

3. Overview of Findings

3. Overview of Findings

The following section highlights the themes, issues and findings in the readings included in this report as they relate to Northern justice issues.  These are divided into four sub-sections.  The first addresses the specific context or environment that that community-based justice initiatives in the North – especially within Nunavut – will take place in.  The second sub-section summarizes the themes surrounding the ‘lessons learned’ about the nature and results of community-based justice projects in Northern, on-reserve, and off-reserve communities in Canada. The third sub-section illuminates some of the key issues regarding the community-based justice initiatives' relationship with the larger, mainstream criminal justice system in Canada.  Finally, the fourth sub-section addresses some of the key issues regarding the nature of community relationships in the North and the dynamics of community mobilization. 

3.1 The Northern Environment: Social Problems, Crime, and Justice Issues in the North

There is without doubt a specific Northern environment.  Consequently demographics, geography, and crime, as they operate in the North, must be recognized and incorporated into development and implementation plans.  In fact, understanding that environment is vital to the success of any initiative, whether grounded in health, justice or politics.

Some specificities of the Northern environment that are discussed by the authors highlighted in this report include:

  • The traditional settlement patterns are very different than the present artificially - constructed ones.
  • Traditionally, Inuit peoples were nomadic.
  • The North presents challenges and opportunities because of its vast space.
  • The North, for the most part, is made up of small communities.
  • Language is a key issue.
  • In many communities there is inadequate and unsafe housing for the residents.
  • Crime rates are high and represent a high level of violent offences.
  • High rates of alcoholism are reported.
  • High rates of domestic violence and sexual assault are reported.
  • The general sentiment is that the circuit courts, intending to address this specific context, have failed to adequately do so.
  • Within many communities in the North there is an absence of adequate mental health facilities, recreation facilities, and social services.
  • Few lawyers are available to provide legal support and representation.

3.2 Lessons Learned: Nature and Results of Other Community-Based Justice Projects in Aboriginal Communities

While the number of reports that address the challenges and successes of community-based justice initiatives across Canada is limited, it is clear from the ones highlighted in this report that some of the elements that play a key role in ensuring success can be identified.  They are introduced below.

Need for high level of organization

The articles annotated in this report indicate that community-based justice initiatives in Aboriginal communities must not be haphazard.  If these initiatives are to be effective in preventing crime, meeting the needs of victims and offenders, or empowering the community, there must be a structured and thought out plan for development and implementation.  Consequently, the organizers must know the community and the intended goals of the strategy. 

The role of tradition

Many have held that traditional Inuit mechanisms for social control and addressing anti-social acts are ineffective in the modern world.  This is the result of both the policies that have oppressed Inuit communities, creating dependency and, in some cases, powerlessness, as well as the fact that many of the crimes that occur today did not occur in the past.  However, the voices in this collection indicate that the spirit that guided the traditional mechanisms can be incorporated into modern-day situations and community-based initiatives. 

Traditional goals had both proactive and reactive elements.  Traditional mechanisms created an environment that prevented anti-social acts, as well as a process that adequately addressed the issue(s) at hand, attempting to heal the parties to the offence.  These are goals that can be attained through modern terms such as ‘restitution’, ‘community service orders’ and ‘reintegration’.  Amalgamating tradition with modern is a theme that underlies many of the initiatives underway.

Justice is a process

It is clear from the literature that simply implementing a new program does not imply success.  Flexibility and an effective feedback/monitoring system are required so that the program can be altered when necessary or tailored to better meet the community’s justice goals.  The voices in this collection speak to the fact that community-based justice initiatives involve learning through trying and the acceptance that refinement will always be necessary.

How ‘success’ is measured

Communities developing and implementing community-based justice initiatives must address what ‘success’ means to them and how it will be measured.  For example, does it mean that there is reduced recidivism by those who may offend, or, fewer new offenders?  Communities must ask where change is to be focused and how success will be defined.

The need for a holistic approach

In developing and implementing a community-based justice initiative, the strategy developed and adopted must incorporate all relevant social, economic, and political factors. Organizers must be aware of these factors as they operate within their community and the justice project itself must address (if not focus on) them.  These larger issues, especially in Northern communities, are intrinsically linked and must be holistically addressed and encompassed in their strategies.

Absence of the ‘right way’ to implementing community-based justice

The literature makes clear that there are no templates to offer a community starting a justice initiative and this collection, while illuminating the experiences of many communities in initiating, developing, and implementing programs, does not dictate the ‘right’ way. There are a variety of community-based justice initiatives and programs occurring, and depending upon the financial and community resources available, as well as the needs of the community in relation to justice programming, they all require varying levels of community abilities and resources. That being said, however, a few generalizations about common elements to success can be mentioned, as they are commonly stated in the literature:

  • It is important that the community is aware of its abilities. This collection shows that things can be done if the community has both the desire and ability to take on the challenge. 
  • The voices in this collection all hold that the specific needs and abilities of the community must guide the justice initiative. 
  • There are a variety of needs that a community has, needs that differ (i.e., in some communities the problems stem from alcohol abuse, while in others the problems lay in ‘sniffing’ gas and other chemicals).  These variances are important to be aware of so that any initiative can identify and attempt to ameliorate them.
  • Communities also vary in terms of ability and desire to take on more responsibility for justice initiatives. 

Establishing the initiative: Adult or youth?

The literature indicates that it is important that the initiative knows whom it intends to serve for a number of reasons:

  • Adults and youths have different needs.
  • Adults and youths often commit different crimes.  Adult males tend to commit more violent crimes and youths tend to commit more property offences.  This has implications on the strategies developed and the roles that the community will play in meeting the needs of the parties involved.
  • Adult and youth initiatives have different avenues available to them (i.e., alternative measures in the Y.O.A.).  As a result they will look and operate very differently.

Establishing the initiative: Multiple forms available

There are a number of forms that the justice initiative can take, depending on the level of organization operating, the relationships established, and the objectives of the project.  Developers must think about whether it would be best for their needs and the community’s goals to have the initiative operate within the system (i.e., sentencing circles) or outside of the formal system but dependant upon its assistance (i.e., tribal courts, justice committees) as well as whether the initiative will be community-based or organization based.


The language used in most Inuit communities is Inuktitut.  The issues that arise from the high use of Inuktitut and the implications that will have on any initiative must be adequately examined and explored.  For example, interpretation, nuances, and meanings that are inherent in speaking Inuktitut, require adequate translation services.

Domestic violence

Throughout the literature it is clear that domestic violence is an issue that must play an integral role in any justice strategy adopted, especially in the North.  The re-victimization of victims of spousal assault must not occur.  The literature speaks to the fact that victims of domestic violence are re-victimized in a number of ways by the justice system – both community-based and mainstream.  The cycle of violence is a real problem, one that requires an effective strategy to end it, not one that builds the re-victimization into the system. 

The literature points out that the dynamics at the community level have the potential to incorporate this re-victimization in two ways.  First, through negative views about women held by powerful community members.  Second, through the inability of the community-based initiatives to adequately support or protect the victim by preventing the offender from abusing.  These are issues that must be incorporated into the development and implementation of community-based justice initiatives.

Offender focus

Much of the literature speaks to the issues revolving an ‘offender-focus’ in community-based justice.  This has been the reality of many past initiatives, and efforts should focus on not replicating this phenomenon.  This offender focus is an unchecked consequence of the emphasis that is placed on healing and preventing the cycle of crime.  Some feel that this precludes any real attention being given to the needs of the victim and that consequently extra attention to the victim may be necessary.

Importance of liaison services

Liaison services, such as the Native Courtworker program, victim-witness programs and Inuktitut-English interpreters are an important element of community-based justice initiatives. These services are essential not only because of the limited resources of the initiatives, but also because the community-justice initiatives will still have an interface with the Canadian criminal justice system.  This interface introduces legal obligations on the part of the community-based initiative.  These programs attempt to assist them in meeting those obligations and meeting their needs.

Prevention and healing

Prevention plays a vital role in many of the communities that develop and operate community-based initiatives.  In fact, in the literature it is expressed as a key element.  In this collection it is clear that prevention can take many shapes, depending on the particular situation and the specific needs of the community.  As well, prevention means different things depending on who the intended targets are.  Some of the issues surrounding this theme include the following:

  • A number of distinctions must be made regarding the role of prevention. First, a different approach is necessary when discussing prevention as preventing recidivism and when discussing prevention as literally, the prevention of criminal activity from starting.  Very different strategies are required of each.  A second distinction has to be made regarding the role of prevention for adults and the role of prevention for young offenders.  Prevention strategies will be very different for these groups.
  • For adults, prevention often works in tandem with healing.  Adults that commit crimes or anti-social actions often need ‘healing’ because their actions were a symptom of an underlying ‘imbalance’.  For many youths this may be the case as well, if they have already begun offending.  For younger children, however, prevention does not necessarily mean healing, as it does for adults, but rather refers to preventing the youth from engaging in the criminal activity; developing a strategy that addressees the factors that contribute to a youth starting to engage in criminal activities.

3.3 Relationship with the Formal State-Operated Criminal Justice System

The voices included in this report also address the issue of how a community-based justice initiative in Aboriginal communities may interact with the formal, mainstream Canadian criminal justice system. It is clear that there are a number of issues that must be examined in order to ensure a mutually beneficial working relationship and matched expectations.

One aspect that must be considered is the level of and type of involvement, as well as the role(s) of the criminal justice system, its agents and agencies.  Issues that must be addressed to avoid misunderstanding and distrust from all parties, introduced in the literature, include such things as:

  • The support of the criminal justice system is vital to the success of any community-based justice initiative.
  • Referrals: who and how?  The initiative must address this question and come to an agreement with the justice agents in their community.
  • The presence of a ‘safety valve’: when will the larger system become more involved with the initiative in order to protect the larger interests of the community and how will that be negotiated?
  • How will the initiative avoid being undermined by the larger system?  How will it be ensured that their goals and roles will not be co-opted or that control over the initiative will not shift to an external source?
  • Offence threshold: what offences are too much for the initiative to safely and effectively address?  The voices in this collection hold that the community cannot deal with all offences because some serious offences may be too difficult.  In such a case, the community can play an important role in the post-adjudication area.  For example, they can be involved in sentencing and advising on disposition.  Or, individuals and Elders from the community can work with the offender on a one on one basis while incarcerated or once they are re-introduced to the community in order to reintegrate and assist in rehabilitation.  Consequently, although this is an important area to explore and understand, community involvement and control, at this point, does not have to be an ‘all or nothing’ situation.

Another issue for community-based justice initiatives in the North is the transfer policy of the RCMP. RCMP officers are moved to a different community approximately every three years. This has serious implications for justice delivery in the North in a number of ways.  If this external policy is not addressed within the development and implementation of the justice strategy it may aggravate the operation of the initiative and delay the acquisition of its goals. The literature in this collection points out that this policy may:

  • Prevent officers from becoming trusted by the community.
  • Hinder efforts to apply community-based policy.  For example, a new officer may undermine the initiative by not diverting cases to the community, or they may have a different vision of justice that does not reside in the wishes and needs of the community, but instead arises from the strict application of the Criminal Code and the goals of the formal mainstream system.

3.4 Community Relations and the Dynamics of Community Mobilization

The community is a key element in community-based justice.  The success of the initiative is determined by the level of community support, as well as whether the needs and input of the community are incorporated into the planning, implementation and operation of the justice strategy.  In this collection a number of issues are articulated that speak to the primary role of the community, the challenges involved in defining a community, and issues of power.

What is the community/who is the community?

In Northern communities, the community itself, defined by both culture and geography, is not difficult to locate.  Northern communities represent a more homogenous group than found anywhere else in Canada.  However, there are issues that revolve around evoking the term ‘community’ in community-based justice initiatives, and these issues must be addressed if true community involvement, integral to community-based justice in the North, is to occur.  The issues in the literature include:

  • Who will make up the community in community-based corrections?
  • Who represents the needs of the community?
  • How will community involvement be ensured?
  • Whose interests will be represented and preserved by the community?
  • How will the interests of all community members be represented and acted upon, particularly those less powerful in the community?
  • How will community be defined?  Does evoking the term ‘community’ imply all the members who live in that community (based on consensus/ geography) or the interests of the majority (based on a more political foundation)?
  •  Who will the community be accountable to?
  • Will current inequalities that are present in the community be incorporated into the community-based justice system?  What mechanisms are in place to address that possibility?
  • What (pre) conditions (human and financial) are necessary for effective community involvement?  What characteristics must the community have that will make community corrections and justice possible? 
  • It is important that the distinction between community-based justice initiatives (which are grounded in strategies developed, implemented and administered by the community) and community level control (community administration of the formal system’s justice strategies, where the development is done ‘elsewhere’) is addressed.

Power dynamics

There are a number of issues regarding power dynamics in the community that must be examined at all stages of community-based justice planning:

  • The power dynamics between men and women have to be addressed.  Inequality must not be built into the system.
  • The underlying power struggles and powerlessness that characterizes domestic violence and sexual assault must not be replicated.
Low levels of community involvement

Strategies must be developed to address the potentially low levels of community involvement which characterizes many community-based justice initiatives’ efforts.

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