A justice summit was held in Labrador recently and Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said it was informative and well-represented.
“If you look at the collection of people I’m willing to bet not very often do you get the Supreme Court of Canada, Court of Appeal and Trial Division, the chiefs of those divisions, indigenous governments, department of justice and all the front line workers in one room having this chat,” he said. “I think we’ve made a good start.”
Parsons said he heard a lot of different ideas from the groups, including better communication within the justice system and retention of court workers and lawyers. He said government has to work smarter with the resources available.
“Everyone is doing it in the context of we know that there’s no big pot of money to invest in Justice,” he said. “The department has always been underfunded and right now when you look at the fiscal times that we have, there’s not going to be a cheque cut to fix everything. We need to work with the means we have, in some cases it could just be the policies we could change, the procedures could be tweaked.”
With the high crime rates in Labrador, similar to what are found in the territories and other northern areas, Parsons said it needs to be looked at as more than a justice system issue.
“Justice (Malcolm) Rowe who was there from the Supreme Court actually discussed that,” he said. “In his opening remarks he talked about the higher proportion of crime here. It’s not just a justice issue, this is an issue where we need to reach outside and look at education, look at health, there’s a role for everyone to play here. I can say I don’t know the solution but I want to be part of it.”
So far these summits have been held in two parts of the province and Parsons says he wants to hold others in central and western Newfoundland. Once they compile all the information a document called “What we Heard” will be released to the public to view. He said it’s important to hold these in different parts of the province.
“The justice system is similar but every area has its own unique situtaitons that we have to discusss,” he said. “What works in Labrador may not work in Stephenville and Grand Falls. I’d like to think it was productive. But the trick to this is you can’t just go have a meeting and get some information or data and put it on a shelf. People want to see results.”
Gregory Rich, Grand Chief of the Innu Nation, was one of those in attendance at the summit and said he found it was informative.
“All the resources in the justice system were there, judges, lawyers, legal aid, victims services and so on,” he said. “A lot of information was heard by the Innu, there was a lot on the table.”
Rich said for the Innu, one of the biggest issues is restorative justice, which is an approach to justice that personalizes the crime by having the victims and the offenders mediate a restitution agreement to the satisfaction of each, as well as involving the community.
He said for them a restorative justice system would make more sense and help integrate offenders back into the community. Rich said more programming at the provincial level would also help with this issue. Currently inmates at federal prison facilities have access to many programming options, including recovery and education. Those services are not available in the same scope in a provincial prison.
“A lot of the inmates have been going back and forth to the correctional facility, they repeat the crimes and come back and repeat the crimes. I think the reason they do that is there is no programs available in those facilities,” he said. “Newfoundland should look at that, it’s not working. One would be developing a treatment program for the inmates, I think that kind of program set up in and out of the facility would help the inmates as well.”
Another issue the Innu brought to the table was accessibility of the courts, specifically for the peopleof Sheshatshiu. Rich said some of the people that are supposed to appear in court have a hard time finding a ride to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, which is about 35 km.
“It costs like $70-75 to get there in a taxi and that can add up quickly. If you miss your court date there’s a warrant and then it costs you more money to go back to court again. It isn’t helping anyone. We need a court back in Sheshatshiu.”
Rich said he was glad they got their message out there and he feels the meeting was beneficial, now he just hopes they’ll see results at the end of the day.