Native Canadians and the Criminal Justice System: A Critical Examination of the Native Courtworker Program

James C. Hathaway, University of Michigan Law School


The native courtworker program is an ongoing initiative of the federal Department of Justice which seeks to reduce the incarceration rate of Canadians of aboriginal descent, including status and non-status Indians, Inuit and Metis. Under the program, native people trained as courtworkers are present in the criminal courts to assist native defendants by explaining their rights under the law, by acting as liaison between the defendants and the criminal justice system and by making referrals to social, legal, educational, manpower, medical and other services as and when required. Federal support of native courtworker programs commenced in 1969 with funding from the Department of Indian Affairs, the Department of National Health and Welfare and short-term Local Initiative Program (L.I.P.) and Opportunity for Youth (0.F.Y.) grants. The program was entrusted to the Department of Justice in 1972 and currently operates in all provinces and territories except New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. This study discusses the rationale for and structure of the native courtworker program, provides an analysis of its efficacy in meeting social objectives and makes proposals for reform of federal policy in the field of relations between native peoples and the criminal justice system.