Jump to Main Content
Decrease font size Reset font size Increase font size
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto Home| OISE| U of T| Quercus| Site Map | Contact Us | Accessibility | Feeling Distressed?
INSPIRING EDUCATION | oise.utoronto.ca
Deepening Knowledge.

Restorative Justice and the Circle Process



Sentencing Circles for Aboriginal Offenders in Canada: Furthering the Idea of Aboriginal Justice within a Western Justice Framework

By Melani Spiteri, 2002.

Abstract:  This thesis examines the use of sentencing circles for Aboriginal offenders in Canada.  The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the degree to which the idea of  Aboriginal justice, and the concepts associated with this idea, have been furthered by the  implementation of sentencing circles in Aboriginal communities across Canada.  The amount of control that Aboriginal community members have over the sentencing circle process and sentencing itself will be an important factor in furthering the idea of Aboriginal justice within a Western justice framework.   

The main source of data for this case study includes seventeen reported 
sentencing circles judgments, seven sentencing circle applications, and three appeals of 
sentencing circle decisions all of which took place between 1990 and 1999.  Existing 
research on sentencing circles and Aboriginal justice is also explored throughout this 
The findings suggest that community members, victims, and offenders have 
begun to act on the understanding that justice is a community responsibility by 
participating in sentencing circles.  While circle participants can introduce Aboriginal 
traditions and practices into the circle process and can suggest restorative and healing 
sentencing plans, they do this within the constraints of the criminal justice system.  The 
criminal justice system, through case law/appeals and legislation in the  Canadian 
Criminal Code, places constraints upon the sentencing of offenders in sentencing circles.  
Judges are restricted as to the types of sentences that can be given to Aboriginal offenders 
in sentencing circles.  While judges retain the power over sentencing they often accept 
the recommendations for sentence given by community members.  The community 
membersí suggestions are often reflected in the conditions of probation.   
Many of the sentences given did further the idea of Aboriginal justice by ensuring  
iii that offenders follow a rehabilitative plan, with the help of their fellow community 
members. These plans include aspects of restoration (and counselling), reconciliation, 
restitution, and reimbursement.  The conclusion is made that even though Aboriginal 
justice initiatives, such as sentencing circles, are operating within the Western justice 
framework, they do allow for the advancement of concepts associated with the idea of 
Aboriginal justice.  

Lift Each Other Up:  An Interview with Chief Wilton Littlechild, Commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Chief Wilton Littlechild speaks about his experience in residential schools and the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Resolution:  An Interview with Elder Joseph Williams

Elder Joseph Williams is interviewed about his experience in residential schools and his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


Books, Fiction

Touching Spirit Bear

By Ben Mikaelsen, 2002.

Highly acclaimed chapter book about a non-Aboriginal adolescent you who chooses to participate in Aboriginal Circle justice rather than go to jail.  Explores themes of family and relationships, as well as a focus on circle justice and emotional healing. 


Books, Non-Fiction

The Ethic of Traditional Communities and the Spirit of Healing Justice

By Jarem Sawatsky and Rupert Ross, 2009

Returning to the Teachings

By Rupert Ross, 2006.

Respected former crown attorney Rupert Ross looks at alternative forms of justice which originate in Aboriginal cultures.

Restorative Justice Transforming Society

By Arthur Lockhart and Lynn Zammitt, 2005.

Manual addressing Restorative Justice, including case studies, and tips for approaching group justice through a restorative paradigm.



Living Justice Press

Living Justice Press is a nonprofit publisher for books on Restorative Justice.  The website also provides resources and information about the Circle Process, including:

  • The Indigenous Origins of Circles
  • Circle Experiences:  Stories and Comments

Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)

A link to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission website.

TRC YouTube Channel

A link to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission YouTube Channel.

TVO interview with Justice Murray Sinclair

Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), discusses the evolution and mandate of the TRC.

OISEcms v.1.0 | Site last updated: Friday, January 4, 2019 Disclaimer | Webmaster

© OISE University of Toronto
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, 252 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1V6 CANADA