This is page numbers 689 - 717 of the Hansard for the 12th Assembly, 5th Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was community.

Topics

Item 18: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Item 18: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Chair John Ningark

Do we agree that if we conclude Justice today, we go on to Public Works and Services?

Item 18: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Item 18: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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Some Hon. Members

Agreed.

---Agreed

Item 18: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Item 18: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Chair John Ningark

Thank you. We will take a 15 minute break.

---SHORT RECESS

Bill 1: Appropriation Act, No. 2, 1994-95
Item 18: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

March 18th, 1994

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The Chair John Ningark

Department Of Justice

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The Chair John Ningark

Yesterday when we concluded for the day, we were discussing the Department of Justice. The Minister already introduced his witnesses yesterday, I wonder if he has to do that again? Yes, please, for the record, Mr. Kakfwi.

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Stephen Kakfwi Sahtu

Same as yesterday. On my left, the acting deputy minister of Justice, Mr. Graeme Garson, and on my right the director of finance and administration for the Department of Justice, Ms. Louise Dundas-Matthews.

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The Chair John Ningark

Thank you. It is comforting to know that you are still the Minister with the same staff today. We are on general comments. Page 07-9. Mr. Patterson.

General Comments

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Dennis Patterson Iqaluit

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to have a chance to make some general comments about the Department of Justice. I have one or two concerns, but I like to think I'm always one to give credit where it's due, so I'll start out with a short and not exhaustive list of all the positive things that have been accomplished by this department under Mr. Kakfwi's leadership, although perhaps some previous Justice Ministers get some credit, as he very kindly said yesterday.

First of all, I would like to say that there couldn't have been a better interim appointment of a deputy minister than Mr. Garson.

---Applause

With his credentials in Canada and his impressive past experience, I'm only sorry to hear that he wishes the appointment to be interim. I respect him for that but I've had some occasion to work with him in this capacity and I think he's a very good interim arrangement, let me put it that way.

I would also like to say, Mr. Chairman, that there seems to be a lot of good things happening with this department. I'm impressed -- and we've discussed this at length -- with Mr. Kakfwi's initiatives on family violence and zero tolerance of violence. I think he's brought this issue to the fore and it is having results and will have results. I think it's a very appropriate stance for the Minister of Justice to take.

I'm also pleased that, finally, there is real work under way in family law reform and we're starting to see some legislation emerging now, and hopefully more this fall. I want to mention that I have had an opportunity to get briefed on what is planned for the approach to the long-standing issue of the need to recognize custom adoptions. While I don't want to tread on the mandate of the Standing Committee on Legislation, I do want to say at this point that everything I know about this legislation leads me to believe it is practical, workable and it respects community custom.

I think the department has done good work in putting this long-awaited proposal forward. I know it will get careful consideration by the standing committee, but I personally hope it can soon become law. This is a long-standing issue that is of concern everywhere in the territories and I think the department has proposed a practical way of dealing with the backlog and fixing up this problem in the future, in a way that respects traditional law but also allows the custom to be given the appropriate recognition by bureaus of statistics, people issuing birth certificates and the like. This is good work and I hope it can lead to early passage of the legislation.

I also want to say that I think very good things are happening with justices of the peace in the Northwest Territories. The JP task force recommendations are, I think, almost completely implemented. I think Mr. Stevens is doing a commendable job of recruiting, training and inspiring JPs throughout the Northwest Territories. There is a much better success rate of attracting aboriginal and women JPs. In my own riding, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of JPs, and the new JPs are of a high calibre and they are enthusiastic. I talked to them and they are inspired by the training sessions, and they are feeling very proud of what they are doing.

This is very important because we all know that the JPs are the soldiers in the field who can do a great deal of important, community-sensitive summary conviction work, if they're given the support. I think that support is now being given. I'm pleased to learn that their remuneration will be improved and I commend the Minister and the department for that.

I also want to say that I believe a good number of very capable people have been attracted to community justice positions throughout the regions. I'm pleased that people like Nick Sibbeston, with all his experience and concern about justice are now working for the department and looking at innovative approaches. I think that's happening in virtually all regions of the territories. They are creating a sense of optimism and excitement about the potential for new approaches.

I'm also pleased that Nora Sanders is back with the department. I think she brings a lot of skills and openness to new approaches in that area. I congratulate the Minister for luring her back, whatever was taken to do that, because it is Ontario's loss and our gain, I believe.

Without belabouring it, I would also like to say that there are good things happening with community justice in my constituency. I'm very pleased that the on the land program for young offenders at Mingotuq is up and running. I believe it is working well. There is good communication between the camp operators and the officials in the department. They are dealing with the inevitable issues that come up when new approaches are being taken, but I think they are being dealt with openly. I'm very optimistic that this is going to prove to be a good model for other regions in the territories.

My critical comments, Mr. Chairman, relate to the needs of youth. I have some concern that we should be doing more to keep our young people out of jail. I know the Minister agrees with that, but I'm not sure the department has yet realigned its resources -- and maybe I shouldn't be impatient -- to really support the kind of preventive programs that must be in place in all parts of the territories, if we are to avoid the expensive and sometimes lifelong institutional approaches to youth. Especially for those first offenders, I think more must be done to keep them from following a lifelong pattern. Other Members have spoken about that.

One concern I have is, and I would like to ask the Minister about this, I understand that in the reorganized department, young offenders' programs are now under the umbrella of the corrections division of the department. My concern is, Mr. Chairman, that community justice workers are inspiring communities to look at alternative approaches to the ways we have been dealing with youth and other people in the criminal justice system. Often communities are saying we are somewhat apprehensive about dealing with adult offenders and dealing with the heavier crimes, but if we know anything at all, we know how to look after our young people. Let us have some responsibility in this area. Let us act as an alternative to the judicial system. We can at least handle our young people. If think if communities are encouraged to take responsibility for their young people, they may realize they can probably do a darn good job with most adult offenders as well, but there has to be encouragement there.

I think that if young offenders' programs are all being run out of the corrections division of the department, there is one good aspect to that and that is there is a lot of money in that area...a staggering amount of money. So if this responsibility for young offenders' programs in corrections has a good aspect, it is that maybe we can squeeze some of that huge corrections budget and divert it into keeping young offenders out of those expensive young offenders' institutions. That is what has actually been done in Iqaluit, with the Minister's support. If it means we can get money out of the system for alternative approaches, young offenders' camps, peer mediation, counselling, alterative measures programs, et cetera, then this is good.

However, Mr. Chairman, with the greatest of respect to the people who have a tough job dealing with increasingly violent people in the corrections system, I have a concern that there still remains a bit of a bias in favour of institutions and institutional approaches within the corrections division. There is a tendency with people who are dealing with the sometimes very demanding problems of hardened criminals, to not really appreciate that most of the young people who get into trouble for the first time are exploring boundaries just as all of us did when we were young. The only problem is that now in the 1990s, even in the Northwest Territories, the exploration of boundaries -- and sometimes it is a sense of rebellion or independence -- gets them involved with problems that we never dreamed of when we were kids such as prostitution, drugs, AIDS, et cetera. These things were not present a few decades ago. So I have a concern that creative ideas are produced by the community justice workers in the field, then if the solutions proposed have to deal with youth, they are then turned over to a division of the department which is in the business of looking after warehoused people in correctional facilities. I am just concerned that this may not be the best place to have dynamic and innovative alterative solutions supported.

I want to ask the Minister if my description of the organizational arrangements are correct. Also, I would like to ask what programs are in place to support youth justice committees, alternative measures for young offenders and innovative approaches throughout the territories. I was curious to learn, because I live in Yellowknife, that there is not a functioning youth justice committee in this city, even though we all know that notwithstanding all the good things that are happening here, the high level of voluntarism, the great sporting activities, the good education system, there are a significant number of kids, even in this capital city, who have been written off by parents and schools and are living on the streets. There is quite a volume of youth court activities here and serious street problems, yet this city doesn't even have a youth justice committee, for some reason. I would like to know how that could be and how active youth justice committees are throughout the Northwest Territories. If they are not active, does the department have a strategy to encourage those committees to get in place?

The Young Offenders Act does provide that there is a whole number of alternative measures that can be put in place to help young offenders avoid a pattern that can arise when they get into institutions. That is my general concern, Mr. Chairman. It may be more appropriate to deal with it as we go line by line, but I want to say I am curious about where the responsibility for young offenders lies in the department and whether it is getting the support I am sure the Minister would want our young people to get from his department to keep them out of jail. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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The Chair John Ningark

Thank you, Mr. Patterson. Mr. Minister.

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Stephen Kakfwi Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In response to the last question about the Yellowknife youth justice committee, a committee had existed for some time and recently has been, because of resignations and a change in the support to that committee by the government, reverted to a volunteer basis. There was a perceived conflict of interest as well because of some of the staff who were involved in the previous committee. That has been carried away. The local justice specialist is working with this volunteer group to get them back on track and make sure they have the administrative support to do the work they have set out to do. There is a youth justice committee operating on a volunteer basis in Yellowknife at this time.

The way that the department organizes their approach for the youth is corrections still has legal obligations to take care of young offenders by legislation. The Member raises a good point, with the institution being the way it is, are corrections staff sufficiently flexible in their thinking to be innovative and meet the perceived needs of communities that start to articulate them? I think it's a good question. The staff that I work with believe we have the kind of capabilities to be adaptable. I would go with that judgement.

There are two different roles here. The support we give to community justice at the local level is done primarily through community justice specialists and these are the people who help communities put together ideas and approaches for meeting the needs of young and adult offenders. Once there is some sort of agreement made or proposal made by the community, then it is the corrections people who try to set it up to make it operational. Once it is operational, it is corrections that handles it. The community justice side, as such, does not have the capacity to handle the operational side of these agreements as we hope they materialize.

In the budget, we have about $900,000 or so set aside for committee work, both committees dealing with youth and adult offenders and justice committees. There is money available for projects that are initiated as a result of these committees. I'm not certain if I missed anything the Member raised. I took particular note of his concern about whether corrections, as it is or has been, is historically flexible enough as an institution to loosen up and try to be flexible in the mandates they meet

through legislation. I think it is a good assertion to make and for us to try to answer with certainty. Mahsi.

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The Chair John Ningark

Thank you. On my list, I have Mr. Zoe. Mr. Zoe.

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Henry Zoe North Slave

Mahsi, Mr. Chairman. I want to comment about corrections, community justice and law enforcement. Mr. Chairman, I agree with the initiative the Department of Justice

is undertaking with regard to communities, particularly community justice. But I have a concern about this area. I agree with the initiative. I think it's a good thing and that we're moving in the right direction. My concern is about how this information gets out to the communities and various organizations that would be interested in these types of initiatives.

I say that because, as recently as yesterday, I was in Rae visiting my constituency and I had an opportunity to talk with the municipal administrator. I talked about the initiatives of the department with regard to community justice and law enforcement. He expressed interest, particularly with the law enforcement part of it. When I started to talk about the various initiatives of our government, I notice that it appears that the information about these initiatives is not going out to the appropriate organizations or to the communities.

I'm having problems because once I mentioned the types of initiatives your department is undertaking, there was interest expressed. While I was there, I told them to get in touch with the appropriate people, particularly the community justice person we have out in my area, but they weren't aware of the initiatives. I want to ask the Minister how the department conveys all these new initiatives to the communities and the various organizations within the community, for instance friendship centres, bands, hamlets or interest groups. I have that particular concern.

With regard to law enforcement, Mr. Chairman, I noticed the Minister indicated in his opening remarks that the First Nation's community policing initiative is under way in Good Hope and Lake Harbour, I believe it was. There are going to be pilot projects. I know they initiated these pilot projects and they want to wait until they evaluate them and so forth so that later on down the road, if they're successful, they can use them as models for other communities. But, in the interim, what can the other communities that are waiting do in order to enhance their law enforcement at the community level?

Again, I would like to make reference to the municipality of Rae-Edzo, that is really interested in law enforcement. They are having problems with their by-law enforcement component and the general policing of the community. They have a great interest. I agree with the initiatives they are undertaking. But on a temporary basis, what can the community do to achieve what they want to do at the community level?

Those are my two general questions I would like the Minister to respond to, Mr. Chairman.

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The Chair John Ningark

Thank you. The honourable Minister of Justice.

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Stephen Kakfwi Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I understand the Member is saying that the information he is aware of is not known in Edzo and Rae. It is the responsibility of the community justice specialist to convey this to the communities. I don't know if there have been any attempts made to meet and inform members of Rae-Edzo about them but, certainly, we will make sure that is done within the next week or two. Because it is conveniently close, we could perhaps look at having a meeting at a political level, if the Member wants to look at that, to give it the kind of attention it deserves.

The two pilot projects that we talked about are actually just pilot projects. There is another initiative that the federal government has that we are trying to negotiate its application to the north. That is on what they call community policing. It is with regard to the federal government trying to encourage aboriginal communities to take over more control over their own policing. Unfortunately, it is another policy that is oriented towards a southern context. We have been meeting and negotiating with them so we can come to a suitable arrangement to have it apply in the Northwest Territories. If I didn't mentioned it in my remarks, it is intended to focus on groups like the Dogrib Tribal Council or the individual Dogrib communities to either manage their own police contracts or work out some arrangement that could complete the acceptance of the status quo. I hope we can come to some sort of an agreement very soon with the federal government so we can provide this opportunity which I think is the kind of thing the Member is looking for. Thank you.

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The Chair John Ningark

Thank you. Mr. Zoe.