Bringing back the old ways
New system resembles Inuit justice traditions

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 23/98) - Const. Lew Philip thought it was pretty funny that Australian people were trying to teach him about cultural ways he considered to be his own.

"I was there for training in Regina about this family group conferencing and I was laughing. Why are the Australian people teaching my culture?" joked Philip about a new, but old, system of justice that is about to be launched in Iqaluit.

Called family group conferencing, the idea behind the program is really quite simple. Under the guidance of a trained facilitator, the victim of a crime, accompanied by his or her family, meets with the offender and the offender's family and talks about how the event has damaged their lives.

With the assistance of the police, many southern cities have been using family group conferencing for a few years and have been able to successfully mete out punishments for the crime, while actually reducing their number of repeat offenders.

Philip says the system should work well in Iqaluit because it is identical to the way justice used to be practised in Inuit culture.

"This is not new. It reminds me of my own life 40 years ago. People take more responsibility as families. That's our tradition, our judgement," says Philip.

The meetings also allow the victims of crime to feel more satisfied with how events turn out, Philip says, because they get the opportunity to meet with the perpetrators -- an event that does not often happen in Iqaluit's territorial court.

"How can the court solve the problem? We have repeat offenders and the victims aren't satisfied. Courts separate the victim from the offender. This way, you understand how much they get hurt," says Philip.

While family group conferencing won't be used to deal with more serious crimes, like aggravated sexual assault and murder, Philip hopes it will cut down on the court's workload by solving crimes of theft, drug and alcohol abuse and vandalism.

Once facilitator training for the program gets under way at the end of the month or early in December, family group conferencing will be available to all residents of Iqaluit.