[Please note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only. -- S.I.S.I.S.]
Surrey, BC - An aboriginal-based sentencing circle would be one way to help heal the rifts caused by the armed standoff at Gustafsen Lake, a defence lawyer argued yesterday. It would also recognize that aboriginals have something to contribute to the justice system, Manuel Azevedo said.
"This would be one way of the court recognizing that there are some principles in the aboriginal community that have not been wiped genocidal policy of governments," he told Justice Bruce Josephson in BC Supreme Court.
At least nine of the 15 people convicted in the 1995 confrontation over a remote piece of private ranchland claimed by some aboriginals are interested in a sentencing circle. Not all are aboriginal, but Mr. Azevedo said nothing in this relatively new approach to sentencing limits it to First Nations people. Sentencing circles, first used by Saskatchewan courts in 1992, put criminals before a group of community representatives who discuss what happened and come up with appropriate penalties that can range from community service or banishment or prison.
A judge from the mainstream court system has the final say. Mr. Azevedo said the process is based on traditional aboriginal healing circles that try to restore the offender to the community rather than mete out retribution.
Some of the aboriginals who took part in the month-long standoff were from First Nations around 100 Mile House, BC, about 40 kilometres from the standoff sight. They now find themselves shunned by many people in the community, Mr. Azevedo said.
Aboriginal elders from First Nations in the region favour the approach he said. "You have the community literally pounding at the door of the Canadian justice system to get involved," Mr. Azevedo said.
There are no firm rules about sentencing circles, he said. They have been used in violent crimes and although most take place after the accused agrees to plead guilty, that's not a requirement, Mr. Azevedo argued.
Crown prosecutor Lance Bernard, who wants jail time for all 15 offenders, said he would file a written response in time for Judge Josephson's expected ruling when the hearing resumes June 20.
The continued delays angered standoff leader Jones Ignace, also known as Wolverine, who has been in custody almost two years.
He and James Pitawanakwat, in custody since breaking bail conditions last year, are not interested in a sentencing circle. They demanded to be sentenced immediately so they can launch constitutionally based appeals.