Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto
home page       news       court services       community council       legal clinic      links



AUGUST 27-30, 1991

KINDNESS AND RESPECT: At the heart of the Community Council must be a real, conscious feeling of kindness and respect for both the offender and the victim. When the offender and victim realize that the Council members actually care about them and respect them, then the message of the Council has a better chance of getting through.

The most important characteristic of those serving as Council members should be a sense of kindness. Those sitting on the Council also should, where possible, have a personal understanding and experience of the problems and challenges faced by those who come before them. For example, if an offender comes before the Council with a history of problems with alcohol, the Council members selected to serve on the pane would ideally have personally dealt with this problem as well. In the same vein, where an individual comes from a particular reserve, or speaks a Native language, then there should be someone from that reserve who speaks that language on the Council panel.

SENTENCING: It must always be remembered that changing a person's lifestyle can only be done by the person him/herself. While a person can be ordered to stop certain actions and to start doing other things, whether or not the person will respond is in their hands alone. It may well take time for the important messages from the Council members to reach an offender. Time in this sense could well be measured in years, not just days or months. At the same time, even if a person is not yet ready to make the changes in their life that are necessary, they may be taking steps in the right direction and those steps should be encouraged. Council decisions therefore should be realistic and should motivate the person to look at their life and re-examine it. For example, assume a man comes before the Council having broken a store window while drunk. The Council might feel that what the person needs is to address their drinking problem - why is he drinking? What can the person do to change what is ultimately a self-destructive path? However, the Council cannot simply order a person to seek treatment at this or that agency or attend certain meetings. The person has to want to change. This does not mean the Council is powerless. In such a case they may well order the person to pay the store owner for the cost of replacing the window, or to perform community service activities. At the same time, Council members would likely talk to the offender about what he could do to face his problem. The important message - that the person should examine his life and seek to change it - might not sink in for a while, but if the person has successfully made the restitution or performed the community service and then gets in trouble again, he will likely listen more closely to the Council members the next time around. And because he has successfully completed his decision, he will be able to come back to the Council feeling that he has managed some degree of control in his life and perhaps more willing to take on other suggestions.

In terms of community resources for offenders, the Council should always keep in mind that some of the most important resources are the Elders and teachers of the community, either on a person's home reserve or in Toronto itself. Professional agencies can help an offender but sometimes the most meaningful help an offender can receive comes from a person who is spending time with them because they want to, not because they are paid. This in fact is one of the strong points of the Council, the people hearing the cases will not be judges pulling down large salaries, but members of the community volunteering their time.

SELECTION OF OFFENDERS TO COME BEFORE THE COUNCIL: It is the role of the Court Workers to make the initial selection of those to go before the Council. In making these choices however, the Court Workers cannot try to guess what offenders will be more likely than others to get something positive from the program. It is not the Court Worker's job to judge who will likely benefit or not benefit from the Council. How can anyone know the answer to such a question? The Council should be open to any offender. The only restriction to offender participation in the Council should be the lack of resources in the community, either in terms of the ability to help a certain number of people at any one time, or the ability to help that particular individual.

PROCEDURE OF THE COUNCIL: A Community Council hearing will look very different from courtroom. There will be four members on each Council panel. The Council will meet wherever is necessary and appropriate, and if it can meet out doors and out of town on occasion, so much the better. The offenders and victims who attend the Council should be made to feel welcome and to know that the Council members really do care about their situation. Council hearings should be closed to the media.

Council members will reach their decisions by consensus. In some cases they may discuss the case in the presence of the accused and the victim, in others they may go into another room. There may be times when they wish to consider the case for a period of time and would thus ask that the parties return a few days later for the final decision.

(c) 1999, 2000 Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto