UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Autonomous aboriginal criminal justice and the Charter of Rights Johnston, William Wayne


The imminent recognition of an inherent Aboriginal right to selfgovernment signals the beginning of the reversal of a colonization process which threatened the cultural survival of a people. The Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba , hereinafter referred to as the Inquiry, advocates an autonomous Aboriginal criminal justice system as a significant component of this cultural revitalization. This Aboriginal criminal justice system would differ markedly from the conventional system in giving priority to collective rights over conflicting individual rights. The Inquiry rejects the Charter as alien to Aboriginal values and advocates a “tailor-made” Aboriginal charter that would incorporate “only those fundamental freedoms and civil liberties that do not violate the beliefs and paramount collective rights of the Aboriginal peoples.” The conventional justice system’s paramount concern for individual rights is premised on the potential of punishment. The Inquiry’s starkly contrasting paramount emphasis on collective rights is premised on an Aboriginal view of justice which this thesis refers to as the “harmony ethos”: The underlying philosophy in Aboriginal societies in dealing with crime was the resolution of disputes, the healing of wounds and the restoration of social harmony… Atonement and restoration of harmony were the goals - not punishment. The tension between individual and collective rights apparent in the proposal of the Inquiry is the specific focus of this thesis. The colonization process may justify a separate Aboriginal justice system. However, the harmony ethos premise, while appropriate to the mediation-reconciliation communitarian model of justice advocated by the Inquiry, blinds the Inquiry to the additional, and crucially different, adjudicative-rights imperatives of the contemporary Aboriginal society. Actually existing Indianism reveals conflict-generating fault lines in the harmony premise which challenge the sufficiency of the Inquiry’s group-based justice paradigm and indicate a need and desire for an adjudication justice component and concomitant Charter values. This adjudication hiatus in the Inquiry position is a reflection of a similar void in historical Aboriginal justice which challenges the asserted rationale of cultural survival for the paramountcy of collective rights in the contemporary Aboriginal justice system. This historical adjudication hiatus does not preclude a separate Aboriginal justice system, but favours the inclusion of Charter values to strengthen an adjudication cultural foundation which is frail relative to its reconciliation-mediation strength. This thesis is a modest attempt to address the interface between two systems; one mature, but in need of change, the other, fledging and in need of assistance. The Charter provides a ready and flexible framework to join the Aboriginal community both to the larger society and to the unlanded Aboriginal diaspora by principled standards of justice. These fundamental indicia of fairness, recognized by all civilized self-governing units, constitute no significant threat to the cultural survival of the Aboriginal mediation justice heritage, while buttressing its inherent adjudication frailty.

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