Alternative justice system now covers Mi'kmaq fisheries offences on P.E.I.

In a first for Atlantic Canada, the Mi'kmaq Confederacy's restorative justice system is being expanded to cover offences under the federal Fisheries Act.

Indigenous people will have opportunity to use restorative justice if charged under federal Fisheries Act

Fishing offences will now be administered under restorative justice for Indigenous people on reserves on P.E.I. (Nathan Rochford/Canadian Press)

In a first for Atlantic Canada, the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.'s restorative justice system is being expanded to cover offences under the federal Fisheries Act.

The Confederacy, Lennox Island First Nation, Abegweit First Nation, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) held a formal ceremony to sign the agreement on Tuesday. It builds on the MCPEI Indigenous justice program already in place.

There is a similar agreement on the West Coast, but this is the first agreement of its kind in Atlantic Canada.

"This is an important step in building relations with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans by supporting and developing a restorative justice protocol that will see Mi'kmaq people rehabilitate through reconciliation with the community," Brian Francis, chief of the Abegweit First Nation, said in a news release. 

Sheri Bernard, the Mi'kmaq Confederacy's Indigenous justice co-ordinator, and Chief Brian Francis of the Abegweit First Nation, say the implementation of restorative justice for fishing offences is a good step forward. (Karen Mair/CBC)

Restorative justice is an alternative to the traditional court system. It allows Indigenous and other groups to use an approach that personalizes the offence by having victims and offenders mediate a restitution agreement, one that often involves the community. Restorative justice considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offence against an individual or community.

"It was a natural progression to extend the approach of community healing and rehabilitation to offences related to the fishery," said Matilda Ramjattan, chief of the Lennox Island First Nation. 

"As with Criminal Code offences, it is important to recognize that this approach does not provide the offender with a free pass; rather it is a comprehensive process aimed at healing and reconciliation."

Step forward for reconciliation

The work began on this protocol in 2002.

"It's all part of reconciliation and a meaningful step forward," Francis said in an interview. "The traditional,  western system of justice is adversarial and punitive. You pay your fine and move on. That doesn't work for our people. This way the whole community is involved." 

The formal agreement was signed by (L to R) Don MacKenzie, executive director, Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.; Serge Doucet, regional director general, DFO; Chief Matilda Ramjattan, Lennox Island First Nation; Chief Brian Francis, Abegweit First Nation; Shaun O'Leary, chief federal prosecutor. (Submitted by DFO)
This approach does not provide the offender with a free pass.- Chief Matilda  Ramjattan

Sheri Bernard, the Confederacy's Indigenous justice co-ordinator, said restorative justice was a "powerful process."

"We would receive a request from DFO and would then organize the circle. The circle includes the victim, the offender, community members and elders and DFO," she said.

"The offender has the opportunity to apologize, the victim can ask questions, it starts a dialogue for healing."

The DFO is currently working on the development of a national action plan for restorative justice to become a standard enforcement tool for all regions.

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About the Author

Karen Mair is an award-winning journalist and an 'Islander by choice.' Since 1986 she's worked as a host, producer, reporter and social media presenter. These days, you'll find Karen reporting for digital and radio.