On August 21, 1995, a new landmark in the Justice system was reached in Waskaganish when Mr. Justice Yvon Roberge of the Quebec Court ruled on the sentence of an accused who is also a Member of the Waskaganish First Nation. The sentence imposed was a confirmation of the decision and the intervention of the participants in the Circle sentencing which took place in the preceding weeks in Waskaganish.

The case concerned a Member of the Waskaganish First Nation who is in his early thirties. In February 1994, he was accused of sexual assault on a minor. The legal proceedings were complicated in so far as there were serious questions as to the aptitude of the accused to stand trial due to psychiatric problems and his medical condition. After the arrest, the accused was sent to Amos where the Crown Attorney requested that he be sent to Montreal for psychiatric examination at the Pinel Institute. Thereafter, it was determined by legal standards that the accused could stand trial.

Following the preliminary inquiry, the Court ensured that the accused would be confined to 24-hour surveillance in specialized institutions pending trial and sentencing. During a period of 17 months, from February 1994 to August 1995, the accused was successively held in confinement at Pinel Institute in Montreal, the CRC in Amos and finally Waseskun House in Montreal. At the last institution, a specific program was carried out with the accused in order to explain theunacceptable behaviour to him and proceed with imposition of guidelines geared towards correctional measures for his behaviour.

On June 2, 1995, the accused stood trial in Waskaganish and was found guilty on the charges laid against him. However, in order to proceed with the sentencing in view of the seriousness of the crimes but also the special circumstances of the accused, Mr.

Justice Roberge decided to request the intervention of the Waskaganish First Nation, called as “Friend of the Court,” in order to receive guidance on the perception of the community of such crimes, the sentence deemed appropriate by the community, as well as the measures to ensure the rehabilitation of the accused and the restitution for the victims.

As part of the healing process instituted by the Waskaganish First Nation for the community, it was deemed appropriate to intervene as “Friend of the Court” in this Court case. The healing process of the Waskaganish First Nation recognizes that many of the unacceptable behaviours, such as violence, drug and alcohol abuses and other personal problems, are more often than not a result of past abuse received over the years. Some of our adults were severely abused in their childhood by their parents and/or relatives who, in their drunken stupor, did not always realize the hurt inflicted. There was also sexual and/or physical abuse at the residential schools where cultural depravation was imposed in an attempt to lead the Crees to total assimilation. The Crees who traveled outside their communities were continuously subjected to abject discrimination, cultural ridicule and confronted with a society that slowly inflicted the curses of so-called “civilization” such as drinking and drug abuse.

Our Elders are continuously reminding us that the alcohol and drug abuse were not Cree traditional values or characteristics. The Crees were taught this abuse by the non-Native society. The Crees were representing a threat to the non-Natives slowly invading our traditional territory and they certainly found a way to put us under the yoke of their society by trying to ensure that we were continuously under the strains of alcohol and/or drug dependency.

After years of alcohol and/ or drug abuse, many of our Crees found their way out of the labyrinth and abyss they found themselves. Some of us relied on renewed spirituality to clear the path to our new freedom and renewed life. Others were helped through personal challenges and resources. The Waskaganish First Nation has come to realize there was some unfinished business, there were latent reminders of our past abuses. The alcohol and/or drug abuse is too often a symptom of other problems. The drunken stupor and memory loss gained through alcohol and drug abuse are ways of obliterating reminders of our past, of deep wounds received in childhood and/ or our growing up years.

Therefore, the Waskaganish First Nation implemented a healing process called the “Healing Treatment Program” where Members of the Waskaganish First Nation can find help. They have often reached the point in their life when they are confronted with the slow negative encroachment on their future made by complete dependence on alcohol and drugs. They have felt the alienation of their family and relatives as a result of the abuse and hurt they themselves are inflicting upon others in their drunken or drug-induced stupor.

This time reckoning must be met with immediate response. They are reaching out for help and the Waskaganish First Nation is ensuring the health and welfare of its community. Counseling and support have been implemented which help these Members deal with past abuse and long-suffering abnegation. Through the healing process, the Waskaganish First Nation is reaching towards its Members in order to build together a stronger, healthier and more prosperous future for our children.

In view of the healing process, the Waskaganish First Nation considered it imperative to respond to the call for help by one of its most dependent and afflicted Members and his family, a well-respected family of the community. Therefore, a process of Circle sentencing was implemented by the Waskaganish First Nation, the first of its kind in Cree communities and in Quebec.

The first step was investigative research into the Court case. The Court papers were gathered, the reports by the Pinel Institute and the psychiatrist involved in the preliminary process were carefully reviewed. The reports by all specialized institutions having the care of the accused pending sentencing were collected. A careful study of all these documents was made, categorized and synthesized. Then, after the documents were gathered, a Circle of Elders was called in order to give its recommendations.

On a warm evening of early August, 18 persons were gathered in a conference room to commence the process of the Circle gathering. The Elders participating in the process were identified specifically with regards to their impartiality. None of these were related to either the accused or the victim. The first item on the agenda was a review of the case an each single document available.

After this study, the first and foremost important basis for the constitution of the Circle sentencing for the Elders was identified as follows: the protection of the victim and the victim’s family, the protection of the community and then, the protection of the accused in so far as possible. On these criteria, the Circle sentencing could be implemented.

The Circle of Elders recommended that, in view of the evidence submitted, “above and beyond any circumstances of the case, the Circle of Elders unanimously agreed with the necessity of a verdict of guilt in this case.” However, the Circle of Elders also clearly indicated that any correctional sentencing would not be appropriate in the circumstances of this case due to the psychiatric problems of the accused as well as his past dependencies on his family and his community life.

The Circle of Elders proposed an intervention plan to be implemented as a sentence for the accused. This plan would ensure that the accused would be under the complete supervision and care of trappers and hunters who will agree to act as “guardians of the accused.” A special training program was to be prepared by Waseskun House, a facility often used for the supervision of people with specific problems (it is a sort of half-way house). The special training program will be given to the trappers and hunters who will have the supervision of the accused. A regulated daily program will be written in collaboration with Waseskun House and the trappers in order to guide everyone towards a reintegration process into the community life.

The Circle of Elders was also recommending that a special training program be planned for the family of the accused and the family of the victims in order to deal with past offenses and reach a new consensus towards building a relationship for the future.

Finally, but as the foremost important priority, the Circle of Elders specifically instructed all parties that this Circle sentencing will be successful only if there is also a strong program of counseling towards healing for the victim and her immediate family. In the respect of the Cree traditions and values, the fundamental principles of forgiveness, act of charity and reintegration in the community are two-fold: first an admission of the wrongs done, and the restitution to the family. In case of sexual abuse, the restitution to the family is very difficult A complete healing process must be implemented in order for the victim to be able to deal with the hurt, the pain, the abuse and go beyond the past towards a new future. It takes time, counseling, love and compassion. After all, recovery is a journey and can not be done overnight The Circle of Elders also recommended that an information and education program be implemented for the community to deal with these problems and to find solutions which would prevent future abuses. Too often, the victims of sexual abuse are victimized time and time again by their peers who are not really informed on the court case, who create a totally new reality and who make the victim as the guilty part. The Circle of Elders stated clearly that this constant aggression against victims must cease and only information, education and better communications may help the situation.

This intervention plan is now part of the court’s records. In the words of Mr. Justice Roberge: “Before I render my sentence, I wish to thank and congratulate the Chief of the Waskaganish First Nation, Mr. Billy Diamond, and the Circle of Elders of this community for their tremendous effort and involvement in the preparation of the intervention plan submitted. I received this plan last Thursday. I read it carefully and now this ‘Intervention Plan’ is part of the Court’s records.

May we realize that when working together, the satisfaction coming from the well-performed duty constitutes stimulation for the future. I believe that solutions to problems like the one we are facing must primarily come from the members of the community directly or indirectly involved.

In the process of sentencing, I wish not only to take into account your traditional values but to incorporate them as part of a healing process. Whenever a wrong is made that affects the moral and psychological value or the equilibrium of one individual, it also affects the equilibrium of the community…

In June, my wish is to involve the members of the community in the sentencing process which is as you say a healing process. Results went beyond my hope not to say my dreams. Your analysis of the situation, the solutions you proposed are in the spirit of the law in such cases. It must never be forgotten that the basic principle of law is common sense. The probation orders are directed to respond to particular needs of a person or a situation.” ….

Later on, at the end of the sentencing, Mr. Justice Roberge stated: “Finally, I hope that this first experience is the beginning of a long, active and effective collaboration between the legal system, Quebec’s Court and this community. Whether it is under the form of sentencing circle, intervention plan or else. The goal to be reached is harmony in the community.”…

On behalf of the Waskaganish First Nation, it is with pride that I am informing, through this article, the Cree Nation of this first Circle sentencing. The time, efforts and commitments of the Elders who participated in this Circle of Elders cannot be measured in monetary terms. It can only be estimated in terms of love, compassion, community spirit and spiritual and religious values. This is the Cree culture, traditions and values in its essence.

In the month of August 1995, the Elders of Waskaganish came together in this process and shared with everyone their wisdom, their deep affection for their fellow members, their commitments to build a strong and healthy community in the protection of the individuals but also the community as a whole.

May the Cree Nation realize the riches of its traditions, values and culture and perpetuate them for future generations as they were transmitted to us from time immemorial. This may have been the first Circle sentencing, but it must be followed by others in the same spirit and commitment Note: The Council of the Waskaganish First Nation and the Circle of Elders wish to especially acknowledge the contribution of Reverend Frank Mason and his wife Donna for their role in the private deliberations of this Circle Sentencing.