How a circle sentencing works
Recent sentencing nets two Fort Simpson men $3,000 fine

by Ralph Plath
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (Mar 20/97) - When two Fort Simpson men gave themselves up to police after stealing more than $30,000 of electronic equipment from Deh Cho Hall Feb. 1, they wanted to be dealt with by the local justice committee.

Fort Simpson RCMP has the right to refuse any cases it thinks the justice committee can't handle. But police said that Michael Rowe, 22, and Lionel Nadia, 19, would be good candidates as they were first-time offenders and had returned all of the stolen property.

Once a case is referred to the justice committee, the RCMP drops the charges and the offenders must plead guilty to the crimes.

Last Thursday, Rowe and Nadia had their day in a circle sentencing.

First, everyone in the circle -- a group of up to 10 community members, including the accused, victims, other youth and elders -- introduced themselves and then the RCMP officer reads out the charges.

The committee heard the accused's side of the story first. In this case, Rowe and Nadia told the committee they broke in and stole the equipment out of boredom, and apologized for committing the crime.

Next, the victims were allowed to speak. The three victims whose offices were broken into told the accused of their "shock" and "disappointment" and the month's of work contained in the stolen computers which could have been lost forever.

Circle members then asked questions of the accused. Rowe and Nadia were asked whether alcohol was a factor, details of the events that occurred, why they did it and how their parents and care-givers felt about their actions.

Circle members shared their feelings and finally asked the accused how the community could regain the trust of Rowe and Nadia.

Once the hour-long discussions were over, the circle members told the accused, victims and the public to leave the room so that they could make recommendations.

After about 20 minutes, the circle members decided to place the value of a computer at $3,000 and told the accused they would have to pay that amount back to the victims (who could do what they want with the money). One hour of each day worked would be used as payments so that it would take time for the offenders to settle up.

"We wanted to do it this way so that you will have to think about what you did for a long time," circle members explained.

The next day, a justice of the peace signed an agreement with the accused and the recommendations were passed to the Department of Justice.