Two recent high-profile murder cases have critics of the Canadian legal system proposing unusual ideas for reform.
On Sunday, a panel held in Winnipeg suggested that traditional “Indigenous healing practices” should stand in place of the existing Canadian legal system–you know, the one that has police and courts and jails and stuff.
The panel, reports the CBC, called “Colten & Tina: Canadian Justice vs. Indigenous Healing System,” named for the two victims in the cases, included MLA for Saint John’s and Manitoba official justice critic, Nahanni Fontaine; Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie, the Red Rising Magazine co-founder; Tasha Spillett, an Indigenous land-based educator; and President of Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, Damon Johnston.
In an interview with CBC Manitoba Johnston commented before the panel met, “[The system] is primarily due for a review and some significant change.”
In the 70s, Johnston was a correctional officer and probation officer in Ontario and disappointing verdicts in a few high profile cases made him feel the current system isn’t fair to Canadian-Indians.
Johnston said, “I’d like to see a process where we come together on these issues and build some consensus on what changes we should implement.”
He suggested the justice system should refocus on why individuals become involved in criminal actives.
“We’re all unique, so we need a system that recognizes that,” he said. “What’s causing the individual to do the unacceptable behaviors and causing them to end up in jail?”
His solution? The Canadian justice system needs to be transformed to resemble the ancient ways of the Indian, even for high crimes like murder.
“It’s a historic Indigenous practice where you bring the victims together with the offender in what they call a conferencing situation and then you work with the two sides to find a resolution that’s acceptable to them,” he suggested.
Johnston further explained his dream scenario for the future of the justice system proclaiming “Because the focus then becomes not on each of the parties, the focus becomes on one of resolution.
“It takes time to get to the resolution, so then a lot comes out in the process.”
Johnston, the other panel members, and millions of Canadians where rocked by last month’s verdict by a Saskatchewan jury declaring Gerald Stanley not guilty in the August 2016 killing of 22-year-old Colten Boushie.
Boushie and four of his companions from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation reserve drove their SUV onto Stanley’s property. Boushie was shot in the head after Stanley’s handgun went off. Stanley’s defense claimed the weapon discharged accidentally.
Almost two weeks after the Stanley decision, Raymond Cormier was found not guilty by a Winnipeg jury in the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine.
Fontaine was found dead in Winnipeg’s Red River weighted down with rocks. The jury rendered the not guilty verdict when no forensic evidence was found to link Cormier to the victim, and a cause of death couldn’t be determined conclusively.
High profile cases in the U.S., such as Casey Anthony, also received unpopular verdicts from juries after prosecutors failed to build substantive cases. The understanding of the law, at least in the U.S., is to submit a not guilty ruling if there is a shadow of a reasonable doubt.
Johnston thinks the solution in both of the high profile Canadian murder cases would be a restorative justice process.
“When someone is a victim there’s anger, there’s resentment, there’s sometimes thoughts of revenge. There’s all these different human reactions to what has happened,” he explained. “Those are immediate reactions to the pain, the loss of a loved one. They’re very strong and powerful, but time is the great healer.
“The restorative justice process is an organized process that has a desired outcome on both sides so you’re focused on resolving which in the end, don’t we want healing?”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has yet to comment if a system of “Indigenous healing practices” would be classified as culture appropriation.
feature image Tina Fontaine and Raymond Cormier, via CBC
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