COVID-19 and Elder-assisted hearings
- Kate Mitchell
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Parole Board of Canada hearings have generally moved to WebEx, which has created some challenges. For example, Elder-assisted hearings may not be available for Indigenous prisoners.
In Elder-assisted hearings, those involved traditionally sit in a circle and an Elder is present to perform cultural protocols and spiritual ceremonies.
Elders can provide the Board members with information about the culture and tradition of the prisoner’s Indigenous community (or about Indigenous culture and traditions more generally). Elders are not involved in the decision-making, but they can advise the Board members regarding cultural and spiritual factors during the deliberation stage.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Indigenous prisoners have not always had the option to have Elder-assisted hearings. This is unfortunate, as it may deprive the Board of important information about the Indigenous prisoners who come before them. Given the overrepresentation of Indigenous prisoners and the systemic factors that have contributed to this problem, the unavailability of Elder-assisted hearings is disappointing.
Even if an Elder-assisted hearing is not available, then it may still be possible for an Elder to attend as an observer. Such a request should be made well in advance of the hearing. However, the Elder would be there as an observer, and it remains at the discretion what role the Elder can have if there as simply an observer.