The courtworkers' primary responsibility is to work in the criminal and family court, ensuring Aboriginal offenders receive fair and equitable treatment. It is the worker's task to ensure that the accused understands their legal rights pertaining to the law.
Aboriginal Criminal Courtworker Program
The main focus of this program is to ensure that Aboriginal people who come into conflict with the law understand the process, and their legal rights. Within the combined courtwork and criminal courtwork programs there is also an education component, prevention, and one-to-one counselling. This is with the urban Aboriginal community as well as presenting cultural differences in the non-Native community agencies.
The Justice System can be confusing
When a person is accused of a crime, or they are dealing with family issues in court, the systems of courts and legal procedures that they must go through can be a very confusing and frightening experience.
This is especially true for Aboriginal people whose language and culture differences make the Criminal and Family Justice systems particularly difficult to understand.
In Ontario, the Aboriginal Courtworker Programme is available to provide assistance to all Native peoples who are in conflict with the law, whether they are Status, Non-Status or Metis.
Throughout the years that the programme has been in operation, Aboriginal Courtworkers have helped many thousands of Aboriginal people to receive fairer treatment from the legal system and to gain a better understanding of their rights and obligations under the system.
The higher standards of professional service offered by the Courtworkers have also earned them the respect of the courts and of law enforcement officials.
Should you or a friend or relative have a problem with the law, here are some of the ways that a Courtworker can help.
Aboriginal Courtworkers Services Available to Accused Persons
- Courtworkers assist Aboriginal individuals by acting as a liaison between the individual and the court.
- Courtworkers explain to the individual, the reasons for their arrest and their legal rights and responsibilities regarding the charges against them.
- They inform the individuals of their right to a full defence, of their right to a private or a Legal Aid lawyer, and of their right to speak for themselves in court if they wish.
- Courtworkers work with various officials of the court to ensure that an individual receives fair treatment.
- Courtworkers can obtain, if necessary, the services of Ojibway language interpreters and interpreters of Aboriginal culture when it has a bearing on the case.
- Courtworkers can explain to the accused, the meaning of preventative measures such as bail, detention or conditional release that the court may take against them.
- When requested, they help prepare Pre-Sentence Reports to ensure that the background of the accused Aboriginal person is properly presented.
- Courtworkers can explain to a person placed on probation, what it means and exactly what is expected of them.
- Courtworkers work with the community agencies to help the accused meet their immediate and long-term needs and goals.
- They make contact with the area Aboriginal Inmate Liaison Worker if the accused is sentenced to a provincial institution.
- When it is necessary, Courtworkers visit Aboriginal inmates in the jails and penal institutions in their area to provide information and moral support.
- Courtworkers provide services in strict confidence to all Aborigianal peoples who require them.
- Courtworkers explain to the Applicant or the Defendant the procedures of Family Law court.
- Courtworkers work with families in the case of an apprehension by CAS, directly or indirectly to ensure that all steps are taken to reunite the family.
Although Aboriginal Courtworkers know about the law and the justice system, they are not lawyers.
Although most speak at least one Aboriginal language, they are not intended to be interpreters for the court.
Courtworkers do not supervise bail or probation although they will make sure the accused understands exactly what they mean.
The main job of an Aboriginal Courtworker is to help Aboriginal people who are in trouble with the law; however, they also play an important and expanding role in their communities.
The Courtworker and the Community
- Courtworker can, when necessary, explain to the family of an accused or to the Aboriginal community, the nature and meaning of the legal steps being taken by the Judicial System against an accused person.
- They can conduct public legal education workshops for the Aboriginal community.
- They can aid in the development of preventative programmes to reduce the rate of crime in their communities.
- When requested, they serve as a resource person in training sessions for employees of the justice system, helping them to better understand the culture, the needs and the aspirations of Aboriginal peoples.
The OFIFC and the Courtworker Programme
The Aboriginal Courtworker Programme is available mainly through the Friendship Centres throughout the province.
The provincial programme is administered by the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) with funds provided jointly by the Federal Department of Justice, the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
The OFIFC ensures the smooth operation and development of the overall programme by regularly checking its effectiveness, identifying needs in the programme, providing responsibilities, and by being available to assist in day-to-day problems with the programme.
Since the first Aboriginal Courtworkers began to attend courts in Ontario back in the mid 1960's, the programme has developed to a point where it now has earned the respect of the police, the courts, and other related agencies and the federal and provincial governments.
More important, however, is that it has earned the gratitude of the many Aboriginal peoples who have been helped through difficult times by the patient dedication of an Aboriginal Courtworker.
Ginny Heilman, Combined Courtworker
Darcy Kavanaugh, Criminal Courtworker
United Native Friendship Centre
616 Mowat Avenue
Ne Chee Friendship Centre
P.O. Box 241
Kenora, ON P9N 3X3
Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre
P.O. Box 1299
Sioux Lookout, ON P0V 2T0
Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre
401 North Cumberland Street
Thunder Bay, ON P7A 4P7