How does Indigenous Court incorporate principles of restorative justice? How does a First Nations view of courts and justice differ from other court proceedings and attitudes? These questions and more were answered at a presentation on April 4 hosted by First Christian Reformed Church in Sarnia, Ont.
About 60 people gathered to hear Honourable Justice Deborah Austin of the Ontario Court of Justice speak on the style of justice used at the Sarnia Indigenous Persons Court and on Walpole Island, a nearby First Nations community. Lincoln Jackson, a local First Nations member, shared his experience with Indigenous Court as well.
Austin focused on the reasons change was needed in the justice system, including the high number of Indigenous people in Canadian jails. Last year’s statistics suggest that just over 25 percent of inmates in Canadian prisons are Aboriginal, while about 5 percent of the nation’s total population is made up of Aboriginal people.
She also highlighted the distance from courts and the lack of transportation that can make it difficult for many First Nations people to appear for designated court dates in the regular court system, as well as the long-lasting effects of the trauma caused by Residential Schools.
Indigenous Court strives for restorative justice in which both victims and offenders are treated with dignity and respect, and a system of collaboration is used. The court meets in a healing circle and aims at developing consensus.
The circle includes both the victim and the offender as well as the lawyers representing them, the judge, family members and service providers, probation officers, and others who can be requested by either offender or victim. A ceremonial feather is used to give participants permission to speak.
The change in format and focus has brought approval ratings for the restorative justice system on Walpole Island First Nation from 52 percent to 90 percent in just three years. People view the new process as fair and respectful to all involved.
The presentation was part of the “Tuesdays at First” series, a series of presentations at First CRC during the month of April.