By Sarah Bissonette
Parry Sound North Star

WASAUKSING – Anishinabek grand chiefs recently reiterated First Nations communities’ right to banish people from reserves.

At the Anishinabek Nation’s Grand Council Assembly in December, the chiefs passed a resolution giving First Nation members the right to ban people after a federal judge determined a man banished from Curve Lake could return to the community, according to the Anishinabek News.

“We, the chiefs, thought that was very disturbing circumstances; historically we’ve always been able to utilize banishment as a form of punishment and to change behaviour,” said John Beaucage, Anishinabek Grand Chief.

Wasausking council has banished two people from the reserve in the nine years Chief Wilfred King has been on council.

The band council uses the provincial trespassing act to prohibit a person from being on the reserve if it is asked by a member of the community to ban them and it passes a resolution. Usually, said Mr. King, it’s used if a complaint is entered about a person with a criminal record for such things as theft, sexual abuse and abuse.

The two people banished in nine years were partners of Wasauksing community members and not members themselves, he said.

“Influence is what really bothers me with drugs. We really need to take responsibility and check who comes into our community from large urban centres” said Mr. King. “Policing them when coming into our community would be ideal, but then again, (how do you without) infringing on rights of the community, because we are a democracy.”

Banishment can be for any length of time, Mr. King said.

Mr. Beaucage said the Curve Lake court decision isn’t precedent setting because it was a lower court ruling.

In a similar case heard in Parry Sound in the summer of 2006, the partner of a Wasauksing member had his banishment overturned when he was acquitted of his July trespassing charge because it fell under the provincial trespassing act and reserves are federal jurisdiction, said Mr. King.

“It really saddened me because here I am trying to protect my community and here the other system doesn’t recognize it,” said Mr. King. “Since some of the banishments aren’t recognized by the system, it’s sort of hurtful to do it again. Why do we do it when it doesn’t work? It’s sort of sad when one government doesn’t recognize another government’s right to protect its community – and it’s all about protection.”

Mr. King said he’d like to make the overturning of the Curve Lake and Wasauking banishments an issue of Anishinabek Chiefs and try to change the current provincial trespassing legislation to one under federal law.

“I just don’t understand either why are we using provincial system (when First Nations) are federal responsibility,” he said.

Having the ability to banish a person from the community is more than for the protection of the community, but is also an important feature the Anishinabek Nation justice system as it works toward self-government, said Mr. King.

The Anishnabek Nation, comprised of 42 First Nations including Wasauksing, is working to step out from under the Indian Act and seek self-governance. Last spring, Mr. Beaucage and the federal minister of Indian Affairs agreed to meet regularly to attain that goal.

The Anishinabek Nation needs to develop a legal system to adjudicate laws in order to deal with “lesser offences” outside of Canada’s legal system, Mr. Beaucage said.

“A First Nation does not have power of imprisonment and we’ve never used that kind of justice process,” said Mr. Beaucage. “If a person is unable to change behaviour to the community, normally they are asked to leave.”

To help a person better their behaviour, First Nation communities have restorative justice circles , said Mr. Beaucage.

First Nation members needing help to solve a problem, such as within the family, or facing criminal charges can take part in restorative justice circles. Those facing criminal charges can go the restorative justice circle route with the approval of the Crown and judge, if they take responsibly for their actions.

“There are two diversion processes that exist for this process; stay-targeted diversion and sentence-targeted diversion. Stay-targeted diversion is a process where the matter is fully diverted to the Wiidookdahwin We-wina Chi B’maadizeyin (Helping each other lead a good life) Process, and is finished in the courts,” said the restorative committee in a written response. “The sentence-targeted diversion process runs parallel to the court system, where the participant is expected to fulfill their legal obligations in the courts, as well as the obligations to Wiidookdahwin We-wina Chi B’maadizeyin Process.”

The Wasauksing restorative justice circle works with about 10 participants a year, and banishment hasn’t been a part of the process, according to the committee.

Through the restorative justice circle, the community works with an individual to help them fit back into the society.

“We have had a number of instances where police officers are part of the justice circle,” Mr. Beaucage said.

Mr. Beaucage said he prefers the restorative justice circle’s route over banishment.

If a banished person wants, they can return and go through the restorative justice system, he added.