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Are parole hearings different for Aboriginal prisoners?

An Aboriginal offender may request to have his or her parole hearing in a different format.

Federal inmates

Elder-assisted hearings

An Elder will be present to provide the Board with information about the culture and traditions of the Aboriginal population the offender is affiliated with (and possibly Aboriginal experiences and traditions more generally).

The Elder may also perform Aboriginal cultural practices and/or spiritual ceremonies (for example, smudging or saying a prayer).

The Elder may question the offender about his/her understanding of Aboriginal culture and spirituality, rehabilitative efforts, and release plan. This may be done in an Aboriginal language, with the Elder providing a translated summary of the discussion to the Board.

While the Elder may play an active role, the Board still leads the hearing. The Elder is not involved in the decision-making process, but the Elder may advise the Board at the deliberation stage about cultural and spiritual factors.

Hearings are typically conducted with the participants seated in a circle. While victims still have the right to be involved in the parole process, the Board may not permit them to sit in the circle if their presence would be disruptive to the process.

Community-assisted hearings

After an Elder-assisted hearing, a hearing may then be held in the Aboriginal community the offender is proposing to be released to. This allows members of the community to participate in the hearing.

Note: Non-Aboriginal offenders with a demonstrated commitment to an Aboriginal way of life can also request an Elder-assisted hearing and/or community-assisted hearing. However, it is up to the Board to decide whether or not to grant the request for an Elder-Assisted hearing.

Provincial inmates

Circle hearings

Aboriginal offenders may request a circle hearing. An Elder attends to lead and facilitate the hearing, provide support to the offender, and advise the Board.

The Elder opens the hearing with a blessing or ceremony, explains the process, and then passes an Eagle Feather to the offender. The offender then has the opportunity to tell his or her story, taking as much time as needed.

In a circle hearing, the participants sit in a circle. The Eagle Feather is passed around and each participant gets an opportunity to speak when they are handed the Eagle Feather.


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