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Pilot project leads to new agreement on restorative justice in northern Ontario

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A successful pilot project in a northern Ontario First Nation focused on diversion and restorative justice has led to a formal agreement with provincial police and an Indigenous legal services organization in Treaty 9 communities.

The Ontario Provincial Police detachment in Sioux Lookout started the project last year with Nishnawbe-Aski Nation Legal Services and North Caribou Lake First Nation.

“What we wanted to look at was a way for the OPP to support the community in enforcing some of their band bylaws as well as looking for other ways to deal with some of the issues that are occurring in the community,” said OPP Insp. Karl Duewel.

“We've seen tremendous success over the last year as far as referrals have gone. We've put in almost 112 referrals through this program and what I understand from NAN legal, is that they've had 100 per cent success rate.”

Duewel said many of the cases they deal with are not really criminal but are linked to drug addiction.

“We don't need to be criminalizing addiction issues,” he said.

“So trying to find a way that best supports the community, what they want for their safety, but then also for the individual to try to get them the help that they need.”

The diversion program uses traditional practices to produce some very positive results.

“This collaboration allows officers in North West Region to offer restorative justice programming through the Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services Corporation and, in cases of minor criminality, defer individuals from the criminal justice system to culturally relevant and community informed programming,” said an OPP news release.

“Restorative justice programming is designed to transform the mindset of offenders, guiding them towards becoming productive members of society. Those who voluntarily participate will engage in self-reflection and learn methods to make positive contributions to their communities.”

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