Justice: there are options

Carlos Jaramillo
Special to Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 18/00) - It has been five years since the creation of the Justice Circle and its main problem remains the same: lack of communication.

The circle is an alternative system of justice for conflicts of a judicial nature in indigenous communities.

The original idea of the program was born from various native organizations which had a distinct concept of law as a possible answer to their populations' abandonment of a search for real justice.

The notion of the circle is fairly simple. It consists of confrontation in a moderated conversation between an offender and victim of a particular crime.

The situation is resolved through the joint search for answers and solutions to deal with the effects of the offence. This is done without the requirement of police involvement in a traditional manner, and therefore without such consequences for the offender as having a criminal record or facing time in jail.

The moderators of the circle are representatives of the community and of the organizations who are involved in the justice process (the RCMP, Justice Department).

The presence of both native and non-native people in these institutions and in the community itself have made it possible that the ideas the Justice Circle proposes are applied to all members of the community, amplifying the possible extent of the program.

"The problem we have with the Justice Circle is the lack of interest or dedication of the parts that conform the circle," said Gerry Antoine, director of the Deh Cho Friendship Centre.

On the appearance that the program would benefit greatly from an information campaign and that the representing parts that make up the circle do not give the program the importance it deserves, including the small part of the community that know about and understand the circle.

"It is sometimes seen as a form of running away from the court system, but the Justice Circle is not an escape.

"It is that instead of punishment for the offender, it is a consensus between them and their families, the victims and the community, it is about healing," paraphrasing the declaration of Pat Waugh, a member of the Justice Circle.

"It seems that things are picking up in the project; the new members of the RCMP in Fort Simpson are very interested and those of us who are members of the Committee are better prepared," stated Waugh, referring to the current training course.

As the Justice Circle has been and continues to be developed as a viable alternative to the traditional justice system, it is now the responsibility of the community and community leaders to learn about and investigate their legal rights and obligations, and the alternative solutions and consensus' that exist.

-- Carlos Jaramillo is a journalism student at the University of San Francisco de Quito in Equador. He's spending the summer in Fort Simpson.