Gouvernement du Québec - Justice

Justice for and by the Aboriginals

Report of the Advisory Committee on the Administration of Justice in Aboriginal Communities

HIGHLIGHTS

The Advisory Committee
The consultation
The recommendations
   • Innovations to the system (recommendations 1 to 16)
   • Adjustments to improve the existing system (recommendations 17 to 47)
   • Conditions for implementation of the Report (recommendations 48 to 54)


The Aboriginal communities welcome the idea of collaborating in the implementation of new approaches aimed at increasing their participation in the Québec justice system and making the system more responsive to their culture. This is one of the conclusions reached by the Advisory Committee on the Administration of Justice in Aboriginal Communities, which has submitted its report to the ministers of Justice and Public Security after more than two years of study.

The Advisory Committee

Following a proposal put forward by the Conférence des juges and supported by several representatives of the Aboriginal nations, the Committee was established in 1992 at the Sommet de la Justice by the Minister of Justice, Gil Rémillard. The Committee, chaired by Justice Jean-Charles Coutu, Judge of the Court of Québec, was given the mandate of consulting Québec Aboriginal communities and organizations, as well as various agencies involved in the administration of justice in Aboriginal communities. Following the meetings, the Committee had to identify models for justice administration that would be adapted to the needs of these communities and would be in keeping with their specific socio- cultural reality. As a corollary to its main task, the Committee also felt that it was necessary to clearly identify the problems experienced by Aboriginal communities, by analysing other aspects of justice administration such as access to legal services, legal aid, relations between the communities and justice professionals and practitioners, Aboriginal para-judicial services, police services, detention services.

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The consultation

The Committee met with most of the Amerindian and Inuit communities, none of whom expressed the wish for a complete divorce from the existing system of justice. The body of the laws, and specifically the Criminal Code, the Highway Safety Code and the Narcotic Control Act, is generally considered to be necessary. It would appear that in fact only the laws governing hunting and fishing are being challenged. At the same time, the Committee did note a certain uneasiness, dissatisfaction and an occasional sense of insecurity on the part of Aboriginal people vis-à-vis a justice system that they do not understand and perceive as being administered by outsiders, and that does not give due consideration to the concrete reality of Aboriginal life.

Despite these reservations, most of the Aboriginal communities felt that they are ready as of now to assume, to one degree or another, part of the responsibility for the administration of justice. This was their reaction to the dispute resolution models put forward in a working document entitled Towards a transfer of responsibility for the administration of justice to the Native commuinities of Québec, which was drawn up by the Committee and submitted as part of the consultation process to all the Aboriginal communities and organizations met with, as a means of preparing the way for discussion.

The Committee's report contains some fifty recommendations designed to translate into attainable objectives the observations and concerns voiced by participants during the consultation tour. The Committee limited itself to this number in order to avoid submerging the various government departments in a cascade of recommendations and also to keep implementation costs within reasonable bounds.

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The recommendations

The recommendations fall into three main groups:

Innovations to the system

The first group of recommendations (1 to 16), proposes approaches that would be relatively new in Québec. They promote participation by Aboriginal communities in justice administration and are geared towards the gradual transfer of responsibility in this area. The Committee suggests that the Ministère de la Justice should support the communities who are interested in these approaches and should immediately look to setting up the various community-based models, which include justice committees, justices of the peace, diversion and mediation, as well as the various approaches which are aimed at having judges consult the community in matters of sentencing. The report recommends that these approaches should be developed within the framework of a global strategy that should be flexible, to allow the communities to adopt the models best suited to their situation, evolutionary, to enable the communities to assume greater responsibility as they acquire experience, and permanent, so that the new forms of justice administration can be integrated into regular community activities.

In short, the Committee recommends the implementation of a community-based justice system in which the active participants will be members of the community and not just officials such as judges, legal counsel and police officers, as is currently the case.

Particular attention was focused on the need to combat family violence in Aboriginal communities, and the Committee recommends that, to ensure the protection and safety of victims, use of these forms of community-based justice should be limited in cases of violence or sexual assault subject to criminal prosecution.

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Adjustments to improve the existing system

The second group of recommendations (17 to 47) proposes certain adjustments that would improve the current justice system in Aboriginal communities. The proposals include increasing the presence in these communities of justice professionals and practitioners such as lawyers, Attorney General's prosecutors and judges; improving certain services to Aboriginal people, such as court interpreting, distribution of information concerning the justice system, measures for Aboriginal youth, use of Aboriginal court workers and organization of itinerant courts in some regions and of a permanent court for the Inuit; and developing professional and cross-cultural training and information programs, which should be made available on a permanent basis to everyone working in the field of Aboriginal justice. The Committee stresses that, in matters of family violence and sexual assault in Aboriginal communities, the departments concerned should undertake to become involved, through the agents of the justice system, in the processes of reconciliation and healing which several Québec Aboriginal communities have begun to develop.

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Conditions for implementation of the report

The third group of recommendations (48 to 54) describes the parameters that are essential to the successful and harmonious implementation of the above recommendations. In addition to the need for a single coordinating body and adequate funding for the attainment of objectives, the main parameters include the need for a fresh outlook on the part of departmental officials and others involved in the justice system -- a whole new perspective from which to view the question of justice administration in Aboriginal communities.

The members of the Committee are convinced of the need for a single coordinating body and for concerted action amongst the numerous agents working in the socio-judicial system. To ensure a joint effort and to avoid the pitfall of scattered sectorial measures and the risk of conflict or redundancy, the Committee feels that it is essential to create a body that would be responsible for implementing all the recommendations in collaboration with the departments concerned and the Aboriginal communities and organizations of Québec.

The Committee invites the players in the justice system and the interested representatives of Québec Aboriginal communities to embark upon a common venture. Québec society, rather than unilaterally imposing its own points of view, customs and culture, must learn to respect the identity and aspirations of the Aboriginal communities who form a part of this society. We must strive towards inspiring confidence on the part of Aboriginal people in our system of justice and towards helping them to perceive that system as being an integral part of their own community life. If we fail to establish this bond of trust, no reform, however extensive, can hope to succeed.

This document is a summary of the Report entitled Justice for and by the Aborigenals.

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Latest update: December 6, 2002



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