Elders pitch in to help crime victims

“We’re working on the outside of the justice system”



Victims of crime in Iqaluit are finding new justice from an old source – local elders.

Iqaluit elders have banded together with volunteer lawyers and justice workers in the newly renamed Iqaluit Restorative Justice Society, which held a series of public events last week.

The group – called Amaaq katimajiit in Inuktitut – is taking an increasingly popular approach to handling less serious crimes, such as threats, petty theft, minor assault, or vandalism.

Since January of this year, RCMP and local judges have sent 22 accused persons to the society for mediations, partially to reduce the number of caseloads stuck in the court system. Most referrals involve young offenders.

But the group sees the referrals as more than a means of serving justice quicker.

They see it as a way of helping the offender, the victim and the community where the incident happened.

“We’re working on the outside of the justice system,” Lucien Ukaliannuk, 64, said in Inuktitut. “It’s going to be beneficial for the community in the long run.”

Ukaliannuk recently joined an elders’ panel with the society, which meets with young offenders, and some adults, after they’ve committed a crime. The accused may also meet with a professional mediator, instead of the elders, at the victim’s request.

Ukaliannuk said he finds these meetings are closer to the community-based justice system that he knew when he was growing up in Igloolik.

Speaking in Inuktitut, the elders tell them about how Inuit dealt with criminals in the past. For example, elders recall how if someone didn’t stop doing harm to others, they would be banished from the community, and left to survive on their own.

The elders also ask basic questions that give the perpetrators a chance to explain why they committed the crime, and discuss potential “punishments,” such as community work, paying for destroyed property, and apologizing to the victim.

Near the end of the mediation, the elders give the youth advice.

Johnny Flaherty, chair of the group’s board, said the elders’ panel and their other mediation sessions are able to provide a comfortable environment that the courts often fail to do.

“Often, the victim or offender don’t have a say but lawyers talk on their behalf,” Flaherty said of the court system. “But this way they can actually show their feelings to each other.”

As a result, a trained mediator with the society helps the victim and the offender agree on a way of resolving the conflict. Successful mediations also mean that the offender will not receive a criminal record for their actions.

Besides helping the offender and victim, Flaherty said the mediation sessions are a great opportunity for offenders’ parents to share their feelings about the incident.

He said elders benefit, too, from sharing their traditional knowledge with young Inuit.

“In a way, they’re keeping their tradition alive,” Flaherty said.

The group operates on $45,000 of annual funding from the government of Nunavut’s justice department, which pays for mediation training for the members. The GN funds justice committees in all communities around Nunavut.

Translation by Itee Akavak.

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