The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) has launched a pilot project aiming to help produce community impact statements on behalf of First Nations communities impacted by serious crimes.
CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston and Executive Director Shadelle Chambers announced the initiative at a virtual press conference on June 10. The year-long project began in December 2020 and is being supported via the Yukon government's Crime Prevention and Victim Services Trust fund.
Community impact statements are documents that can be filed to the court during sentencing hearings. Like victim impact statements, they can give a judge deeper insight on the immediate and long-term effects of a crime.
However, while victim impact statements are written by individuals, a community impact statement typically requires interviews with a number of community members in order to capture a bigger-picture view of the aftermath of a crime.
"In many cases, communities aren't represented in the legal process — the Crown represents the Crown and at times there's a disconnect even with representing the victims," Chambers explained, adding that while a statement can be created for any community, CYFN's project was focusing specifically on Yukon First Nations.
"So, this is really a tool for the community to be involved in the sentencing process."
Johnston said he saw the project as an opportunity to create a better balance in the criminal justice system between the supports offered to offenders and victims.
"[I'm] very excited [about] the fact that now, we have an opportunity to close some of the gap once again when it comes to... supporting the community and how they're feeling," he said.
While community impact statements were first introduced to the Canadian criminal justice system in 2015, only a handful have actually been used in Yukon sentencing proceedings, according to CYFN. One of the goals of the pilot project is to standardize the process of creating the statements and encourage their use in Yukon First Nations communities.
CYFN has also hired a community impact statement coordinator and created an advisory committee that includes representatives for Kwanlin Dün First Nation, Liard First Nation, Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in and the federal and territorial governments.
The pilot has produced three community impact statements so far, which is about the same number as were produced independently in the territory between 2015 and 2020.
While funding for the pilot project ends in December, Chambers said she was hopeful that CYFN would be able to secure territorial or federal funding to make it a permanent program.
"We're really kind of just demonstrating need right now," she said, "and figuring out all the bumps along the way."