June 2020 – Calgary Indigenous Court Options

The Calgary Indigenous Court [“CIC”] located on the 18th floor of the Calgary Court Centre was formed in order to provide an alternative option for carrying out justice for Indigenous people. The Court provides a restorative and rehabilitative form of justice, and treats not only the accused parties, but the victims and communities impacted by the accused’s actions.

The CIC was established with several different target with the primary objective being addressing the issue of over-representation of Indigenous people in the justice system. The Court is also a move in the right direction in addressing and implementing recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls National Inquiry Report.

The Court addresses bail and sentencing hearings. The former deals with addressing whether the accused should be released into the community and under what conditions during the time their matter is dealt with, while the latter deals with rendering the sentence after the accused had plead not guilty and undergone trial or pleaded out their charges. The restorative justice within the Court approaches crime through peacemaking and connecting the accused to their cultures and communities.

Prior to sentencing, in addition to a general pre-sentencing report that can be requested to be performed on behalf of any offender, the Canadian Court can request a Gladue report if an offender is of Aboriginal background, as authorized under section 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code of Canada. These reports are prepared by Gladue caseworkers and contain recommendations
what an appropriate sentence might be and include information about the Aboriginal persons’ background such as child family services removal, physical or sexual abuse, history regarding residential schools, underlying development, or health issues such as anxiety or substance abuse. They are a much-needed supplement to understanding each Indigenous accused’s situation and the need of a restorative or rehabilitation approach when rendering sentencing.

If an offender is sentenced to probation which involves checking in with a Probation Officer for a specified amount of time, a Healing Plan specific to the offender may be included in the probation order. Identified indigenous support agencies are utilized to assist in reintegrating offenders into the community, and at times to encourage offenders to reconnect and learn more about their Indigenous heritage. After the completion of the Healing plan and the probation order, a special ceremony may be held in the CIC to acknowledge such an accomplishment.

The CIC is open for sitting every Wednesday.

There are also Indigenous Courts available in certain Indigenous communities. For instance, at the Siksika Nation, the Provincial Court of Alberta is directly situated on the reserve and has been operating since 1998 and led by a Judge of Aboriginal heritage. At the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, there has been a restorative Court model implemented since 1993. There, the local justice committee participates and provides recommendations for sentencing options as well as very viable community alternatives.

The first Aboriginal Court in Canada was the Tsuu T’ina First Nation Court which was established in October 2000. The Tsuu T’ina Court has jurisdiction over the criminal, youth, and bylaw offenses committee on the Tsuu T’ina reserve.
It has been studied that a big part of the overrepresentation historically and currently in courts for Indigenous people has been the government-funded, church-run schools that were located across Canada and established with the purpose to eliminate parental involvement in the spiritual, cultural, and intellectual development of Aboriginal children.

What’s disturbing to consider is that the last residential schools only closed in the mid to late 90s. During this time, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were forced to attend these schools some of which were hundreds of miles from their homes. Studies find that the impact of the residential school system is a legacy of unresolved trauma passed from generation to generation. Relationships between Aboriginal people and other Canadians have been materially affected as a result of this trauma.
These court options are alleviating the harm done through a community rehabilitative and restorative process.

Steve Dimic

If you have any additional inquiries regarding any of the topics or if you have ideas for future topics, please feel free to email me at [email protected]

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