Grassroots justice
Justice committees now in six Keewatin communities

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services

WHALE COVE (Jun 02/99) - Whale Cove is the latest Keewatin hamlet to form a justice committee and new chairperson Guy Enuapik says the program's success ultimately lies with the community.

Enuapik says the present method of dealing with first-time offenders is unacceptable to the Inuit culture, citing good communication within the community as the key to a better approach.

"We hope the establishment of a justice committee will bring about improvements and that's what we're focused on," says Enuapik. "We want to help the people committing minor offences to improve their attitudes and help get them on a better path.

"But, this will only happen if we're properly consulted. We have to be told what's going on with some of the people who, maybe, aren't acting for the good of the community. Information has to come from the parents or close family members and friends."

The justice committee approach sends a positive message that the community cares about the future of all its people. Enuapik says the experienced voices of elders and adults have been silenced for too long when it comes to helping first-time offenders change their ways.

"We want to bring that approach back," says Enuapik. "We expect good co-operation from the RCMP and the courts. We want to bring about improvements, but there has to be good communication between the people in the community and the justice committee if this is going to be successful.

"The police, courts and committee can't bring about this change without the support and communication of the people."

Valerie Stubbs is the community justice specialist for the Keewatin Region and says the committees have been set up to help bring justice to the community level. She says the program offers first-time offenders an alternate diversion.

"If a first-time offender has been picked up and charged with a minor offence, rather than appear in court, they're asked if they would be willing to go to the local justice committee instead of being charged," explains Stubbs.

"The committee tells the offender they are an important part of the community, but what they did was wrong and hurt the community. The person then does community service based on equivalency."

Stubbs says there are open lines of communication as to the case types the committees want and the types the RCMP are willing to give them. She says another goal is for offenders to stay in their communities where committee members will try to straighten them out.

"We also try to forge some form of reconciliation and restore things to balance with the victim or other party so that the offence doesn't happen again. Committee members will consult on court issues through Nunavut Chief Justice Beverley Browne. They will also be trying to provide some lands programming for young people in the different communities."

Chesterfield Inlet is now the only Keewatin community without a justice committee and plans are in the works to meet with the hamlet in late June to get one started, says Stubbs.