Justice in Rae
Banishment an option for punishment

Rae ( May 22/00) - It may sound like something out of the old west, but banishment is one of the ways the community of Rae has to exercise community justice.

Although this measure doesn't happen very often, the justice committee, or behchoko nayaeti doo, has the power to decide what happens to minor offenders in its community.

On April 27, two people -- formerly of Rae but at the time of the offences living in different communities -- were banished.

One person broke a bylaw related to open liquor and was exiled for three months.

The other was caught bringing too much liquor into town and was expelled for one year.

They weren't the first to be banished.

Last year an individual who was living in the community was banished for a year. After behaving inappropriately with a young girl he was sent away and required to stay with relatives in Snare Lake.

He was also ordered to undergo counselling, be in contact with a probation officer on a weekly basis, not be around children under 14, and take part in community service for elders in Snare Lake.

"I wouldn't say it was common," said Linda McConnell, social development co-ordinator for the Dogrib Rae Band of the punishment. But "in some cases they have recommended that a person not be in Rae any more for a period of time."

The point of sending people away from the community is to disassociate them from the environment in which the crime was committed, and also to protect other members of the community from influence.

South Slave justice-coordinator Helen Hudson-MacDonald, based in Fort Smith, said banishment is not common in the region. All communities in the region have justice committees except Fort Providence, which is currently working to implement one.

It's up to the communities to decide "what model they choose to follow," she said.

"There is some talk of house arrests," she said. "But not banishment."

Although she understands the basis of the practise, saying, traditionally, native groups sometimes decided to banish ill-doers from communities, she doesn't necessarily see it as a solution.

"Possibly they feel either the individual is being influenced in the community or feel they will influence others in the community and possibly they see it as a solution," she said.

But, "most of the time we stress that when (commits a crime) they have to include the member in the community. If you look at removing the individual it certainly isn't going to solve the problem."

But McConnell said, "no community is going to do things exactly the same.

"The real focus is how to help people and make Rae a healthier community."

The use of banishment on occasion in Rae is all part of a two-tiered community justice initiative that lets Rae deal with its own offenders.

People who have committed a minor offence for the first time are dealt with strictly by the committee, which is mostly comprised of elders. People sentenced by the committee are required to sign a contract and abide by it.

If there is a previous, more serious record, the matter is taken to justice of the peace court where the committee advises on sentencing.

"(Rae) has an advantage in that if you don't complete the contract you'll actually stand up in JP court in front of the same people," explained Sgt. Mark Wharton of the Rae-Edzo RCMP detachment.

"In the communities I've been in the two (community justice and the courts) didn't really meet but in Rae they are integrated."

There are currently about eight people on the justice committee, but more members will be added. A youth justice committee is also in the works.

Most of the time, in JP court instances, sentencing involve counselling, community service or other stipulations. Although the committee has no say in the final court decision or verdict of the accused, its recommendations are heavily considered.

"I think it has made a difference already by having them involved," McConnell said about the program that has been in effect since the winter of 1999.

"We have eight members of the community more interested and aware of what is happening in Rae so they can send that message out to the people of Rae as well."

Police and court personnel also benefit from the elders' local knowledge.

"The RCMP and court (personnel) are not from the community for the most part and are usually from down south."