Order in the court
Students have say in process

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Feb 25/00) - A group of Samuel Hearne high school students have taken on a job that could have a major impact on the their peers who run afoul of the law.

They're participating in the pioneering Youth Judicial Advisory Committee, which helped determine sentencing in Inuvik youth court for the first time last Tuesday.

Principal Carson Atkinson said the idea for the committee came from a need to involve the students in the community and to expose them to different career tracks.

"It's another leadership forum for my students," he said last Thursday. "I talked to them about participation and what it would look like on their resumes, about the potential for summer jobs and just acknowledged their potentials and skills."

Atkinson said the eight students first met with territorial judge Brian Bruser at an information session in December. Soon after the meeting, Judge Bruser said he was open to the idea of the students' involvement.

Several observation sessions followed before the group actually sat down to deliberate the fate of two local youths convicted of minor offences in court Tuesday.

"It was interesting to see how the actual proceedings took place, and to see what the guy actually did," said Grade 11 student Will Brake, who acted as recording secretary for the group.

Brake, 16, said in the case of a youth who was repeatedly convicted of break and enters, the group advised weekend supervision -- a proposal with which Bruser evidently agreed.

"He followed our recommendations exactly," he said.

Brake, who also serves as Hearne student council president, said the group appreciates the chance to play a role in court and have an input in the community.

Although the community is small, Brake added there shouldn't be any problem if the students actually recognize the accused.

"That doesn't make it any harder because you try not to take it personally," he said. "You don't think, 'Well, he never said anything nice when he was in class.'"

In fact, it's because students may know some of the accused and understand them that Inuvik Justice Committee co-ordinator John Nash thinks the program can be a success.

"It's great support for the judge and it really helps him in sentencing because these are the kids who know the kids in the community, know their history," he said. "It's a great opportunity for the kids on the youth panel and might give them an idea of how our justice system works."

Nash said the Justice Committee is also trying to attract a wide selection of Inuvik residents, including youth, to act as advisors when they "divert" cases from court and help determine sentencing.

Hearne student Fred Alunik said the committee sounded intriguing. And while it may be too early to say whether it can help inspire members with visions of a career in law, it is at least inspiring thinking about it.

That's just fine with Atkinson who points to upcoming jobs in corrections and the Department of Justice.

Meanwhile, the principal said the youth committee will remain open and flexible. He said the post of recording secretary will rotate among a pool of some 20 students, representative of Hearne's male, female, aboriginal and non-aboriginal make-up.

"We want to keep the advisory committee's form open. We'll define it when we've done it," he said. "This is the students' deal, and I want them to have ownership of it."