What is a Community-Assisted Hearing?
A Community-Assisted Hearing is a culturally responsive hearing that considers the uniqueness of Indigenous culture and heritage. It is available to offenders who are Indigenous (First Nations, Métis or Inuit) and to those who have demonstrated a meaningful commitment to an Indigenous way of life. The hearing format is similar to an Elder-Assisted Hearing but it is held in the Indigenous community where an offender is seeking release and reintegration rather than in an institution, in accordance with the law. The risk assessment process during a Community-Assisted Hearing is the same as with any other Parole Board of Canada (PBC) hearing.
Similar to Elder-Assisted Hearings, participants in Community-Assisted Hearings normally include PBC Board members, the offender, a PBC Hearing Officer, a Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) Institutional Parole Officer, a PBC Elder/Cultural Advisor, a CSC Elder, a Commissionaire, security officers and a CSC Aboriginal Community Development Officer. In addition to these participants, Community-Assisted Hearings are also attended by Indigenous community members who actively participate in the hearing and explain their role in the offender’s proposed plan for conditional release and reintegration into the community.
Other participants may include the offender’s assistant, community Elder(s), a CSC Aboriginal Liaison Officer, a PBC Regional Communications Officer, victims, victims’ supports and the CSC Community Parole Officer.
Who can be a community member?
An Indigenous community member would typically be a person who is a member of a First Nation, tribal council, band, community, organization or other group who has agreed to be a part of the proposed plan for the offender’s release and reintegration.
Can anyone observe a Community-Assisted Hearing?
Federal law permits observers at PBC hearings, including Community-Assisted Hearings, to ensure the openness and accountability of the parole system, and to contribute to public understanding of the parole decision-making process.
Observers may include, but are not limited to, the media, offender supports, community members not involved in the release planning process, PBC or CSC staff, members of the general public and/or others attending for the purpose of training.
The PBC recognizes that individuals attending a Community-Assisted Hearing may have varying beliefs, differing cultures, or sensitivities, and therefore, participation in the ceremonies is optional.
What happens at a Community-Assisted Hearing?
An application and assessment process takes place prior to the approval of any Community-Assisted Hearing. If it is determined that there is a risk to the community that cannot be mitigated, the Community-Assisted hearing may be held at a CSC institution.
Before the hearing begins an Elder may conduct a ceremony such as a smudgeFootnote 1 , a prayer or a song, as requested by the offender. Participation in the ceremony is voluntary. After the ceremony, the Elder may provide a brief explanation of the Community-Assisted Hearing process and request introductions.
The hearing will then begin with a reading of the procedural safeguards. Safeguards are rules every hearing must follow to be fair.
Board members will then hear a report from the offender’s Parole Officer, and any comments from the offender, the offender’s assistant, the CSC Elder and the victim(s) if they have prepared a statement.
Board members will also interview the offender to gather more information about their history including their criminal history, what they have accomplished and learned while incarcerated and what their release plan is.
When the hearing participants have all had an opportunity to speak and the offender has the final word, the Board members leave the room to deliberate. If the hearing is being held in the institution, the hearing participants normally leave the room. They will conduct their analysis based on a full and rigorous assessment of risk based on file and interview information. When they have reached a decision they will reconvene the hearing and summarize their decision for the offender.
Following the hearing, the Elder may say a closing prayer or invite another Elder to do so.
What is the role of the PBC Elder/Cultural Advisor?
The role of the PBC Elder/Cultural Advisor is to facilitate the circle hearing process, offer opening and closing prayers and conduct requested ceremonies. The Elder/Cultural Advisor also provides Board members with information about the specific culture and traditions of the Indigenous community and about Indigenous experiences and traditions in general. The Elder/Cultural Advisor may ask the offender questions specific to their understanding and experience of Indigenous cultural teachings and may offer their wisdom and guidance to the offender. The Elder/Cultural Advisor is not involved in the decision-making process.
How can I apply to observe a Community-Assisted Hearing?
Anyone wishing to attend a hearing should complete the Request to Observe a Hearing form and submit it to the PBC office in the region where the hearing will be held. Observers at Community-Assisted Hearings may also complete their application at the hearing location on the same day as the hearing and should arrive early to allow enough time for processing before the hearing.
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