Restorative justice is one of the tools being used to combat the over-representation of Indigenous people in Canada’s prisons. This is active in the Lesser Slave Lake area. For example, the Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council (LSLIRC) is looking for a new coordinator to continue its restorative justice program for another year.
The regional council is made up of the five First Nations which have land adjacent to Lesser Slave Lake. These are Sawridge, Swan River, Driftpile, Sucker Creek and Kapewe’no.
“Restorative justice is to help community members become better people,” says LSLIRC CEA Debbie Lariviere-Willier. “It helps clients that become involved with the law.”
Canadian Department of Justice report says “the over-representation of Indigenous persons in Canadian prisons began at the end of the Second World War and remains a well-documented reality.”
A 2018 Global News story said, “Alberta is the only province that doesn’t make public its disproportionately high Indigenous incarceration rate.”
Restorative justice is one of the ways that people are combating this.
The Alberta government website says, “Restorative justice is a method of resolving disputes that addresses the harm caused by crime or conflict and promotes meaningful resolutions. It’s often referred to as ‘alternative dispute resolution.’
“It’s a voluntary process that addresses the victim’s needs and holds offenders responsible for their actions.”
In Slave Lake, the Slave Lake Youth Justice Committee is now trained in restorative justice.
There are restorative justice programs across Alberta. The Alberta Restorative Justice Association lists some in Lesser Slave Lake area and Peace Country: Bigstone Cree Nation Restorative Justice Program, Gift Lake Metis Settlement, and Peace River Regional Restorative Justice Association.
Restorative justice is a more holistic approach to justice, says Lariviere-Willier. It includes court, discipline hearings, referrals to counselling, treatment, talking and healing circles.
In summer, teepees are set up for talking and healing circles, says Lariviere-Willier. “Restorative justice could be a part of all that.”
Lariviere-Willier says, “When the restorative justice worker was here, she’d go to court once a week. She’d talk with them after.” She let them know they had a choice between the court system and restorative justice. “Somebody explaining that to them made a big difference. It (the program) provides a service to the band members in the court system and families who don’t know where to look for help when they (the accused) get in trouble).”
“Restorative justice is working in the community,” says Lariviere-Willier. “Becoming an advocate for members who have small crimes. Nothing indictable.”
In Alberta, there are three types of offences: summary conviction, indictable, and dual-hybrid, says ‘You’ve been charged with a crime: what you need to know.’ “Indictable offences are usually the most serious offences and have greater penalties. You may be able to have someone else appear for you if you are charged with a summary conviction offence, but you must appear in court if you are charged with an indictable offence.”
At this time, the Slave Lake Youth Justice Committee can only take youth matters. The Bigstone Cree Nation Restorative Justice Program has worked with at least one adult offender in Slave Lake.