A different approach to 'justice'
Justice committee co-ordinatorhelps victim and offender heal wounds

by Glenn Taylor
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Mar 14/97) - "Historically, the justice system hasn't worked," says Martin Carroll above the noise.

It's renovation day at Carroll's new office. It's not easy to describe what "community justice" means, especially while a buzzsaw grinds through a length of plastic plumbing pipe nearby.

Carroll is the co-ordinator of the Inuvik Justice Committee. His office is tucked away in the corner of the Inuvik Youth Centre, now under construction at the old library.

Community justice is still a new concept in Inuvik, and Carroll says a lot of his job involves public relations -- just getting the word out.

Carroll's committee takes a different approach to "justice" than the courts. Formed in 1992, the committee is "an attempt to get the community involved in the justice system.

Jails "are supposed to be institutions of rehabilitation, but in most cases they've made things worse," said Carroll. "Here's how it all works. Cases are sent to Carroll by the RCMP or the Crown prosecutor, who determine which cases (often first offences) might function best under the community justice approach.

The majority of cases heard by the committee involve minor assaults and theft, and include both adult and youth cases. The committee has handled 19 cases since April of 1996.

The idea is to bring everyone involved together -- the offender, families and other interested parties. The victim is also encouraged to come, although unfortunately, many are reluctant to do so, said Carroll.

The offender must first admit guilt before appearing before the committee; Carroll said the group is not here to determine guilt, just what to do about it.

While the committee may sentence the offender to community service or writing essays of apology to victims, Carroll said he hopes to move away from punishment.

Carroll pushes for what he calls "restorative justice" instead. This involves seeking out the reason for the offence and ensuring it doesn't happen again.

"A lot of people don't like that," he said, noting that after 100 years of British punitive law in the North, people are more likely to support the punishment approach. "It's new, it's a challenge ... it's going to take an attitude change."