Review of the Nunavut Community Justice Program: Final Report

6. Summary of Interviews with Key Community Members


This section of the report summarizes the findings from the interviews held in Nunavut with the results of the community consultations, document review and other interviews, contribute to the summary of findings that appears later in the report.

6.1 Nunavut Justice Headquarters

Nunavut Justice Headquarters personnel expressed confidence in the potential of the Community Justice Program. However, they also indicated concerns that can be summarized as follows.

There is concern that the program is inadequately funded. Similar to the findings in the four communities reviewed, interviewees at Nunavut Justice Headquarter also noted that additional funding is required for Coordinators' salaries, training of Coordinators and committee members, and space for meetings and counseling sessions. However, there is also concern that the existing funds are not being allocated in the most effective way. The present method of per capita allocation to communities may be inappropriate as some Community Justice Committees are not using their funds as effectively as possible, while other committees are effective but could use more funds. As well, Headquarters personnel believe that some communities may not be using the funds as intended. There is some concern that some Hamlets have allocated community justice funds to other Hamlet related needs. It is also perceived that some Hamlets are not completely cooperative in terms of providing financial information to the Coordinators, Committees and Headquarters.

There is recognition at Headquarters that as the program is a territory-wide initiative, territory-wide standards and planning must be in place, and that program outcome measures must be developed and implemented.

Headquarters is concerned that many communities are not aware enough or supportive enough of the Community Justice Committees and that a lack of voluntarism in the communities presents a challenge to the existing Community Justice Committees and to the program as a whole.

With respect to the role of the RCMP, Headquarters perceives some difference of opinion between Justice Committees, RCMP detachments and RCMP Headquarters as to the proper approach to doing community justice (particularly with regard to victim involvement). This could lead to problems for the entire program. From the Committee side, accountability to RCMP and Crown Prosecutors must be regular and effective.

6.2 Regional Community Justice Specialists

The five Specialists were interviewed separately. Following are the main points arising from those interviews.

The Specialists note that IQ is an important principle for all Community Justice Committees. IQ permits flexibility as far as the committees are concerned because it allows them to engage in either traditional counseling, which typically does not involve the victim, or restorative justice as defined by the RCMP, which does involve the victim.

Specialists also indicated that in many communities there is a low level of awareness of the Community Justice Committee. In communities where awareness is lacking, support for the Committee also tends to be low.

The Specialists maintain that funding is inadequate for Committees to develop capacity and to carry out their roles as effectively as possible. For example, while training for Justice Committee members and Coordinators is essential, the opportunities for training sessions is limited because of high travel costs and scarce financial resources.

The Specialists expressed concerns about financial planning and management for the program. They suggested that Headquarters should develop new criteria for the distribution of program funds. Currently this is done on a per capita basis; however, not all communities are using their funds effectively in terms of achieving their goals. Further, the Specialists see a need for Headquarters actively seeking additional funding for the program, protecting program funding, developing comprehensive program budgets, and maintaining efficient accounting and reporting practices.

Specialists assist the Committees in various ways, including training, organizing training by other professionals, liaising with RCMP and others, and drafting funding proposals. They also spend significant amounts of time preparing the financial books for purposes of the audits by Hamlets. This, however, is the responsibility of the Coordinators. The Specialists identified a need to respond to the fact that many Coordinators do not have the capability to perform their duties as this is a serious issue. The Specialists believe that Coordinator positions should be full-time, adequately paid, and meet reasonable hiring criteria. Until this happens, it will continue to be difficult to attract and/or retain qualified individuals to the position and the Specialists will be obliged to carry out some of the responsibilities of the Coordinators.

The Specialists believe that there are difficulties with the Committee appointments process in some Hamlets. In most cases, the process is essentially controlled by the Hamlet. Criteria for the appointment of Committee members and for the hiring of Coordinators are currently being developed and will be discussed in the near future among the Specialists before being taken to Headquarters and the committees. Sustainability is a challenge at the community level. Changing Committee membership often means that instead of reaching a plateau after a certain period of development, Committees often revert to the bottom of the learning curve.

It is important for reporting by Committees to RCMP, Crown Prosecutors and Nunavut Justice Headquarters to be standardized. The Nunavut Community Justice Agreement Form has recently been implemented and should help in this regard. (The form is included in this report as Appendix 5.) Specialists also agree that outcome measures are needed for the program and that record keeping will an essential aspect of the exercise.

The Specialists have recently completed a five-year planning exercise. However, a similar exercise remains to be done with the committees. This task requires funding support and facilitation by a professional.

6.3 Community Justice Committee Coordinators

Coordinators' roles vary by community. Responsibilities may include setting up meetings for Committees, taking minutes, translating when required, providing financial information to the Hamlets, and liaising with RCMP, Crown Prosecutors, and Specialists. As well, a Coordinator may be expected to explain to offenders, victims and their parents the way in which the justice committee works. This may include a description of family group conferencing or traditional counseling, as well as the goals of the process.

In spite of the functions listed above, there is a lack of clarity regarding Coordinators' responsibilities. In most cases Coordinators do not have a job description and have never had their committee clearly explain its needs and expectations. This appears to be an area that needs work. While there should be territory-wide standards, individual committees may have additional special requirements for their Coordinators.

Coordinators report to the Community Justice Committee, although that reporting relationship appears to be informal. Coordinators also report to their Regional Specialists in the form of a twice yearly status report. Communications between Coordinators and Specialists is more frequent, however, as in most cases they talk regularly by phone and e-mail.

Relations between Coordinators and Hamlets are generally good; however, in some cases the Hamlets are not forthcoming with financial statements when required.

Coordinators hold varying views on their pay and job status. The Coordinators are casual, part-time employees and, as such, receive an hourly wage and no benefits. Some Coordinators, particularly mothers with school age children, find part-time employment adequate. Others, however, believe that their part-time status does not give them enough time to do their jobs effectively, and that it does not provide enough income to make the job worthwhile. The hourly wage rate for Coordinators is set by individual Community Justice Committees. The rate varies from $18.00 to $25.00 per hour. This is an area that Nunavut Justice should consider standardizing across all committees.

Coordinators in general believe they need further training. This would include training on the new Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) and family group conferencing. Many feel that one training session is not enough. Coordinators suggest that training should be taken by Coordinators and other Committee members together.

6.4 Nunavut Court of Justice Officials

For purposes of this report, this category of community consultees includes the Chief Judge of the Nunavut Court of Justice, the Justice of the Peace Coordinator, one Justice of the Peace in Arviat, and a court worker in Pangnirtung.

The Chief Judge believes that there are some successes in the Community Justice Program; for example, in Arviat the number of cases arriving at court has decreased significantly in the last two years. Thus, the program's potential is being realized, at least in some communities. The Chief Judge expressed the view that in those more successful communities, Community Justice Committees could deal with lower level sexual assault cases and spousal abuse cases, as long as the committee is capable and all parties agree. The Chief Judge feels that courts do not do a good job handling such cases because they drive a wedge between people in the community. Community Justice Committees, on the other hand, are focused on reconciliation and support.

The Chief Judge sits with Elders at sentencing in many communities. This works well. Often these Elders are members of the Community Justice Committee, although the Community Justice Committee mandates do not cover this activity. The Chief Judge has also appointed youth panels to assist in sentencing in Arviat and Iqaluit.

In terms of development, the Chief Judge indicated strongly that the program needs more funding in order to hire full-time, reasonably paid Coordinators. As well, Community Justice Committees could use more training in methods for dealing with victims; for example, family group conferencing. The Chief Judge also expressed the view that victim-offender mediation is needed in major crime cases. With the proper training, stable Community Justice Committees could take on this role.

Generally, Justices of the Peace believe that diversion to Community Justice Committees is a good thing. However, many will not refer cases to a Committee because they are unclear as to how the committee works. This would suggest that communication between Justice Committees and Justices of the Peace should be improved. Some Justices of the Peace work with the police, the school and social services to make decisions regarding pre-charge diversion of youth.

The Justice of the Peace Coordinator believes that Justices of the Peace could play a more active role in community justice through referring cases to the Justice Committees (allowed by the YCJA), training Committees in legal matters, and sitting as members of Committees. He also believes that Justices of the Peace could help the Committees by facilitating meetings (especially when the Coordinator is less effective in this task), and could assist by following up on a case once the sanction has been decided; for example, when a youth has been assigned community service work.

Court officials agree that standard outcome measures are required for all Community Justice Committees. Currently the only measure of effectiveness is re-offending, although even this is not well recorded by Community Justice Committees. Judges and Justices of the Peace want to know if the Program is having an impact on rates of offending, charging rates, and court appearances[17].

The Justice of the Peace Coordinator expressed the view that the process whereby committee members are appointed by Hamlets is problematic, as indicated by high turnover rates and the general ineffectiveness of some committees. A possible approach would involve Nunavut Justice identifying potential committee members, who would then be vetted by the Hamlet.

6.5 Crown Prosecutors

Crown Prosecutors operate from the Regional Office of Justice Canada in Iqaluit. They are increasingly diverting post-charge cases to Community Justice Committees. They agree, however, that pre-charge diversions are more effective, mainly because this approach addresses cases in a more timely manner. Currently, a diversion protocol agreement is being drafted for the Justice Committee, RCMP, Justice Canada and Department of Justice Government of Nunavut (see Appendix 4). Crown Prosecutors believe that this draft protocol is a good document and that it will add clarity to the diversion process for all parties.

Criteria for post-charge diversion are set out in the Federal Prosecution Service Deskbook. These "Preconditions to Diversion" (section 14.2.2.) are reflected in the draft protocol. The Crown Prosecutors in Nunavut advise that they follow the criteria closely. Generally they will divert property offences and low-level violence cases. It was observed that Crown Prosecutors cannot divert spouse abuse cases, although it would make sense in some cases.[18] It does not appear that spousal violence cases are being diverted in Nunavut, either by the Crown Prosecutors or the RCMP. It should also be noted that the Youth Criminal Justice Act obliges Crown Prosecutors to divert youth cases whenever possible.

A significant concern is that delays often affect the post-charge diversion model. Typically, it is at least two to three months after an incident before a case gets to court. By that time, the problems or conflicts leading to the incident may well have dissipated or been forgotten. There are many reasons for delays, most of which are beyond the control of the Court. The fact that the Court party must fly to communities over a vast area naturally presents challenges, especially in weather conditions that are often prohibitive. Nor is this preventable by the Community Justice Committees, but it does make their job more challenging.

Crown Prosecutors indicated that they are not adamant about victim involvement in the community justice process, although they would prefer to see it in appropriate cases (i.e., in crimes with victims). Crown Prosecutors try to consult the victim before recommending diversion.

With respect to future directions, Crown Prosecutors would like to see Committees having greater involvement with youth through post-conviction counseling. One Crown Prosecutor asked one of the stronger Community Justice Committees if the Committee would be willing to take on post-conviction counseling as part of a judicial probation order. The response was that the Committee already had its hands full. This is something that might be considered in the future if Committees are able to develop the capacity to take on such counseling. Court observation by the researcher in 2000 suggested that at least one judge had been specifying post-conviction counseling as part of probation orders. In the case of one committee, at least, its lack of capacity in this regard meant that the conditions of those particular probation orders were not being entirely met. While the problem was rectified, it demonstrated the need for judges to communicate more effectively with Community Justice Committees.

Crown Prosecutors see that the capacity of Committees is limited. Committees need full-time, well paid Coordinators. Coordinators and committee members require training; for example, with respect to the YCJA. As well, Crown Prosecutors are concerned that the Community Justice Committees do not have enough profile and support in their communities. This is important if they are to be successful.

Communications between Crown Prosecutors and Committees are generally good and meetings are usually held before court to discuss possible diversions. These discussions take place either in the community the evening before Court day, or by telephone the week prior to Court.

6.6 Defence Counsel (Legal Aid)

Each region has a legal services society (Kitikmeot, Kivalliq, North Baffin, South Baffin/Iqaluit). The legal aid lawyers and court workers report to these bodies. Funding comes from the Nunavut Legal Services Board.

Legal aid lawyers do not have much contact with the Community Justice Committees, although they are supportive of cases being referred. They are concerned that the effectiveness of Committees varies by community, as do the outcomes for referrals sent to the Committees. Legal aid lawyers are also concerned that the judges generally do not visit Community Justice Committees or get to know the communities.

Some defence counsel believe that the RCMP policy of not referring spouse abuse cases should be reviewed. It was suggested that many first offence domestic violence cases could appropriately go to the Community Justice Committees because the Committees have the potential to handle relatively minor cases of this type.

6.7 RCMP

There appears to be significant variation among detachments in terms of diversions to Community Justice Committees. As well, the views of divisional Headquarters vis-à-vis the individual detachments are somewhat unclear with respect to restorative justice policy and practice. Some of the main points from discussions with RCMP officers at the detachment level and divisional Headquarters are outlined below.

Some detachments regularly divert youth and adult cases to the Community Justice Committee. In other communities the police are reluctant to divert cases, or do so only on a very limited basis. The explanation for the differences varies. In some communities the Committee does not have the capacity to handle referrals and the police are naturally reluctant to divert. In other communities, while the Committee may have the ability to handle referred cases, the commanding officer is not committed to community justice.

A further factor affecting decisions whether to refer cases concerns the approach taken by individual Committees in dealing with referrals. In particular, many Committees engage in traditional counseling, and thus do not always involve the victim in the process. Some RCMP members view this as a reason not to refer cases, while others accept the Committee's direction and refer cases anyway.

The RCMP officer responsible for Community Justice across Nunavut advised that the "V" Division Headquarters' position is that community justice must be defined as "restorative justice"; that is, the victim must be involved in all cases. It appears that "V" Division Headquarters is increasingly aiming to influence detachments to take this approach and to avoid referrals unless there is direct victim participation. This would be regardless of the victim's approval for traditional counseling to proceed without his/her involvement. The responsible officer also indicated that "V" Division Headquarters is being directed by Headquarters in Ottawa that victim involvement is the definitive RCMP policy position. This is consistent with the fact that RCMP members are trained only in restorative justice as defined by the RCMP. The definition of community managed justice is a crucial issue that is discussed further in the concluding section of this report.

In three of the communities visited for this study - Pangnirtung, Rankin Inlet and Arviat - the police are referring cases regularly to the Community Justice Committees and are respecting the approaches taken by the Committees insofar as they employ traditional counseling. In Iqaluit, police are beginning to refer simple cases to the Iqaluit Restorative Justice Society after a prior loss of confidence in the ability of the previous Committee to handle referrals.

In the communities where the police regularly refer cases to the Community Justice Committee, the relationship is very good. This is indicated by the willingness of police to divert cases, and the degree of regular communication between the police and the committees and Coordinators.

6.8 Hamelt Officials

Nunavut Justice officials, including the Specialists, have indicated that relations between the Hamlets and the Community Justice Committees and their Coordinators are not always effective. However, in three communities visited for this study - Pangnirtung, Rankin Inlet and Arviat - the relationship is very good. Iqaluit is unique in that the recently established Iqaluit Restorative Justice Society is a registered body that is funded directly by the Government of Nunavut, rather than through the municipality.

In communities where the relations between the Hamlet and the Community Justice Committee are effective, the municipality sees the work of the Committee as improving the health of the community. The Coordinators in those communities are efficient in getting financial information to the municipal Finance Officers and, in turn, the Finance Officers are efficient in preparing financial statements for Nunavut Justice Headquarters.

For many of the other communities, generally there is a lack of awareness of the Committees' work by the Hamlet Councils. Hamlet officials would therefore like to see presentations by the Community Justice Committees to Councils with respect to the work being done by the Committees.

Hamlets vary in terms of the provision of office and meeting space for the Committees. This is something that should be considered in all communities, as the Committees are often in difficult circumstances with respect to space for holding their meetings and their counseling or mediation sessions.

Fiscal year 2003-04 was problematic for some municipalities as Nunavut Justice and Justice Canada were late in reaching an agreement for Aboriginal Justice Strategy funding. Consequently, the federal share of community justice funding arrived late to Nunavut Justice and then to the communities. In several cases the municipality proceeded to spend the anticipated funds on the Community Justice Committee but, in so doing, incurred a debt for a significant period. Both federal and territorial officials will work to ensure the problem does not reoccur.

Hamlets are responsible for recommending new Community Justice Committee members to the Minister for appointment. Generally individuals are identified as the result of coming forward in response to a local advertisement. If the applicant is a responsible citizen with no criminal record, the recommendation is usually made. Some Hamlet officials admit that this can lead to inappropriate appointments, occasionally based on family relations. One of the Specialists is currently taking the lead in developing a standardized set of criteria for membership selection and appointment.

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