Consultations will be taking place in the Cree communities in the next few months concerning the justice system and how it is applied in the communities. This was the result of a project that was started in 1990 because of concerns raised with the present justice system. The project looked at policing, the role of traditional Cree beliefs and practices of social control, and wanted alternative forms of justice systems.
A report has been completed and will be presented for community members to review. With this round of consultations with the participation of the Cree people, changes may be made to the justice system serving the Cree while ensuring that respect for Cree culture and traditions are an important component of a new system.
The Phase 1 report has various findings and recommendations. They include criminal justice education in the schools, support for the Cree police through Band meetings to discuss their roles in the communities and policing matters in general, recruiting and training options for the police as well as a six-month probationary period. The report goes on to discuss the possible creation of an integrated regional police force. This force would have its own Policing Coordinator. The report also recommends that the police should be located close to other groups handling social problems like the health clinic, youth protection, social workers, NNADAP and Band Councils.
The number of police needed to effectively do their job will also be discussed in the upcoming consultations. The police duties should be broadened to be more meaningful to the community abd police career prospects should be improved. As well, the question of police accountability should be looked at and laid out in a Charter of Policing. The report reccommends that police officers would be evaluated once a year. Another recommendation is that Cree police do not carry sidearms. Also police would no longer be special constables but have the full status of a peace officer under the Criminal Code of Canada.
Courses and information on parenting, family relations, alcohol and drug abuse counselling, family planning and other areas of concern to the community should be made available to community members.
An important section of the report looks at the creation of local and regional multifunction justice structures. The report recommends the appointment of a community relations officer who would act as a mediator/negotiator and messenger between individuals. As well a Justice Authority could be created with the authority to make decisions in cases of disagreements between individuals. This group would also have the authority of a justice of the peace. The Justice Authority would be responsible for the yearly evaluations of the Cree police.
This report recommends the establishment of both a coastal and inland circuit court. The court would be composed of members of the Justice Authority. The range of options in sentencing in this court would be broader, more acceptable and effective than those currently available to Cree communities. The purpose of sentencing will be discussed in the upcoming community consultations. Guidelines for the use of probation and fines as sentencing options should be developed and provided to the circuit court. More immediate sanctions for wrongful conduct should be developed so that the use of jail as a punishment can be reduced. A method of dealing with persistent and repeat offenders who are involved in offenses of a serious or semi-serious nature should be developed, according to the report.
The report also recommends that the existing circuit court be maintained in order to deal with more serious offenses which the Cree courts do not wish to decide. The judges and officials of this court must be able to speak fluent English as it is the strongest language after Cree in the communities.
Scheduling of consultation is to be decided shortly but will take place in February and March. The Inland Team will be headed by Henry Mianscum. The Coastal Team will be headed by Violet Pachano.