Department of Justice Canada

Department of Justice Canada

August 18, 2008 12:12 ET

Justice Minister Announces Additional $40 Million to Help Support Traditional Aboriginal Justice

QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC--(Marketwire - Aug. 18, 2008) - The Honourable Rob Nicholson, P.C., Q.C., M.P. for Niagara Falls, Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada, today announced $40 million in additional federal funding for a renewed national Aboriginal Justice Strategy (AJS). This enhanced funding will bring the total federal investment in the AJS to approximately $85 million by 2012.

"The Aboriginal Justice Strategy builds on this Government's commitment to reduce and prevent crime, strengthen the justice system and promote safer communities," said Minister Nicholson. "It is a successful program that helps steer Aboriginal people away from a lifestyle of crime, provides hope and opportunity for Aboriginal youth and helps end cycles of violence."

The Aboriginal Justice Strategy, a cost-shared initiative with the provinces and territories, provides funding for community-based justice programs that aim to reduce rates of crime and incarceration among Aboriginal people and assists them in assuming greater responsibility and accountability for the local administration of justice within their communities.

These programs provide justice services to more than 400 Aboriginal communities across Canada, helping to hold offenders accountable for their actions, increase awareness of victims' issues and promote greater youth connection with Aboriginal culture and traditions. Over time, they have helped reduce the number of Aboriginal people coming into conflict with the justice system.

Today's enhanced funding will focus on the needs of youth, Aboriginal people in northern or remote communities and those living in urban centres.

More information on the Aboriginal Justice Strategy is available through the Department of Justice Canada website at http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/index.html.

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Backgrounder: Aboriginal Justice Strategy

The Aboriginal Justice Strategy is a federally-led, cost-shared program to assist Aboriginal communities to develop alternatives to mainstream justice processing. The AJS has operated since 1991. The AJS is being extended until 2012 with an enhanced overall investment of $40 million. It will focus on urban, northern and remote communities.

A series of Aboriginal justice inquiries in recent decades found that a disproportionate amount of police, courtroom and correctional resources are devoted to Aboriginal-related crime, most of which is linked to demographics and socio-economic conditions. This is still the case: 75% of on-reserve crime and nearly 90% of off-reserve crime involves non-violent property offences (e.g. theft under $5,000) or lesser offences like public mischief and disturbing the peace.

According to the 2006 Census, Aboriginal people now represent 3.8% of Canada's population. However, they account for approximately 21% of provincial admissions to custody and 18% of federal admissions. Although only 10% of the provincial population, Aboriginal people in Saskatchewan made up 80% of admissions to provincial custody in 2003-04. Other prairie provinces also have high rates: in Manitoba, Aboriginal people account for 11% of the provincial population, but 68% of admissions; in Alberta, Aboriginal people represent 4% of the provincial population but 39% of admissions.

The AJS, in part, aims to contribute to decreasing rates of crime, victimization and incarceration among Aboriginal people, and to respond to Aboriginal communities' desire for greater involvement in the administration of justice.

Community-based justice programs

Community-based justice programs are the centerpiece of the strategy. The AJS operates in every province and territory on a 50/50 cost-shared basis and supports over 100 community justice programs covering approximately 400 communities across Canada. AJS programs are developed and managed in partnership with Aboriginal communities and with provinces and territories.

Nearly 80% of community programs involve pre- or post- charge diversion. The balance deal with justice services like family mediation, by-law enforcement, victim support, or community input into sentencing of offenders. Access to AJS-sponsored diversion programs is entirely at the discretion of police and prosecutors according to the same criteria applied in non-Aboriginal diversion cases.

Diversion is a discretionary tool used by police and prosecutors for offences they view as more appropriate for out-of-court resolution. The explicit goal is to break the crime-escalation cycle for those offenders most likely to respond positively to alternative community sanctions. Now formalized as "alternative measures" under s. 717 of the Criminal Code and as "extrajudicial measures" under s. 4 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the criteria for diversion under the AJS are no different than those applied in the non-Aboriginal context.

The community justice committees to which Aboriginal offenders are diverted require that they take individual responsibility for their actions and abide by stringent conditions. Failure to comply may lead to the imposition of criminal charges. There is a high compliance rate - 80% nationally.

A 2006 recidivism study compared 3361 AJS program participants with 885 non-participants and found that AJS program participants were less than half as likely to re-offend as those who did not participate in an AJS program. Other positive AJS effects included increased attention to victims' issues, marked reduction in youth alienation and greater community cohesion and stability.

A large proportion of AJS community programs involve alternative dispute resolution in a variety of community contexts. In particular, the restorative justice approaches employed by many communities promote a holistic environment and serve as a valuable adjunct to formal court processes. Examples include:

- Circle sentencing and peacemaking circles

- Community justice committees

- Elders' councils

- Program management/Evaluation skills

- Conflict resolution

- Mediation

Capacity Building Fund

Increased involvement and strengthened capacity of Aboriginal communities fosters the development of more appropriate responses to justice issues faced by Aboriginal people. Over time, this helps reduce the number of Aboriginal people coming into conflict with the justice system. Currently, the AJS directly supports 3 self-government justice capacity-building initiatives.

To a large extent, the success of the AJS rests on the ability of Aboriginal communities to develop project proposals, and to manage, deliver, and maintain community-based justice programs. Capacity-building, training and development to support the local administration of Aboriginal justice programs, are key initiatives for the AJS.

Training and Development

The training and development component of the AJS addresses on-going training needs related to community-based justice programs through community capacity building.

This includes training community justice workers operating community-based justice programs as well as those working towards implementing an AJS program. In the latter regard, training and development funds cover workshops and other training necessary for the implementation of new programs. The AJS currently supports 27 justice training agreements.

Contact Information

  • Office of the Minister of Justice
    Darren Eke
    Press Secretary
    613-992-4621
    or
    Department of Justice Canada
    Media Relations
    613-957-4207
    www.canada.justice.gc.ca