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Native restorative justice (sentencing circle 2)

  • February 19th, 2009

Eric Crampton has alerted me to the sequel to last months’ reflection on community restorative justice.

Recall that a judge referred an ‘aboriginal canadian’ who drunkenly dragged  his daughters out into a blizzard and left them where they froze to death, to a  native "sentencing circle" .The judge will determine the sentence but may have regard to the "circle’s" recommendation.

Here’s how the "community" handled it – as reported in a National Post editorial yesterday:

"an aboriginal "sentencing circle" convened in Rose Valley, Sask., to deliver recommendations on the fate of Christopher Pauchay, the Yellow Quill band member … did not perform well.


After five hours of maudlin rhetoric, including tearful presentations from Pauchay and the mother of his children, Tracey Jimmy, the circle recommended what The Canadian Press called "a life sentence of spiritual guidance and healing" instead of a prison term – or, in other words, nothing. Only the most naive of observers could possibly be surprised.


The experts, of course, told us before the hearing that Pauchay would not necessarily get off easy….


Pauchay repeatedly violated his bail conditions by getting drunk, and is facing a charge of assaulting his common-law wife some five months after his walk in the snow – shortly after she had given birth to their third child, Miracle. 


The sentencing circle is theoretically intended to help aboriginal Canadians feel "more connected" to an alien justice system that is inherently unfair to them – the dubious proof of this being that they are so likely to run afoul of it, and display recidivism. The main benefit is supposedly provided by confronting the accused with the community that has been affected by his crime. In this case, however, the community itself is nearly as dysfunctional as the criminal; not surprisingly, reports from the Pauchay circle suggest that no one did a very good job of representing the children who died, or for, that matter, the real interests of little Miracle.


Pauchay’s wife complained that her daughter had been taken into provincial care after the assault incident, and that a restraining order forbids her to see Pauchay, a "good man" who is "the only person who can actually feel what I’m feeling." Pauchay, too, decried the state removal of his last surviving daughter, setting a world record for nauseating impudence by whining, "My rights [as a father] didn’t matter."


With their obsessive focus on Pauchay’s feelings and needs, the elders who presided over the circle displayed the same sense that Pauchay has no relevant culpability – that he has done nothing requiring expiation and temporary segregation from the innocent.


Pauchay’s guilt was supposed to be the guiding premise of the meeting, but everyone involved evidently lost the plot. This is why we have all those cold legal abstractions that the bleeding-heart professional penologists hate so much: in order that people might ultimately be judged, not according to the sympathies of friends and relatives, or their ability to exhibit sorrow on cue, but according to the character of their actions. We leave justice in the hands of judges precisely because they are impartial.


 One hopes the judge presiding over this case, who is obliged to consider the recommendations of the circle, will conduct himself accordingly.

Either way, the concept of sentencing circles has been massively discredited.


Sounds to me remarkably like our Family Group Conferencing. But of course no one is allowed to report on such secret "justice" processes in New Zealand, so few know how offensive they can be to the victims.

Not a problem of course for  Mr Pauchey’s victims because they were dead.

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