Aboriginal Courtwork Program Evaluation

2. Overview of the Program

This chapter provides an overview of the ACW Program in terms of its purpose, delivery model, services, budget, and intended outcomes.

2.1. Purpose of the Aboriginal Courtwork Program

The purpose of the ACW Program is to help Aboriginal people who are in conflict with the criminal justice system to obtain fair, just, equitable, and culturally sensitive treatment. The objectives of the ACW Program are to:

  • Assist Aboriginal people to understand their right to speak on their own behalf or to request legal counsel, and to better understand the nature of the charges against them and the philosophy and functioning of the criminal justice system;
  • Assist in enhancing the awareness and appreciation of the values, customs, languages and socio-economic conditions of Aboriginal people on the part of those involved in the administration of the criminal justice system; and
  • Respond to problems and special needs caused by communication barriers that exist between Aboriginal people and those who are involved in the administration of the criminal justice system.

2.2. Delivery Model

Federal funding for the ACW Program is provided through contribution agreements with participating provinces and territories. In turn, most of these jurisdictions have entered into contractual arrangements with Aboriginal SDAs which provide Courtworker services. Approximately183 Courtworkers are employed by 20 SDAs across Canada. The ACW Program is guided by the TWG which serves as a forum for addressing a range of program policy and operational issues.

Presently, there are six different delivery models operating across the country, varying in terms of the number of agencies operating in a jurisdiction and the type of employer. All models involve a relatively small network of geographically decentralized Courtworkers who usually work independently, providing services and building relationships with their local communities.

In the three territories, federal financial support for Courtworker services is provided through the Access to Justice Services Agreements. These Agreements integrate federal support for criminal and civil legal aid, the ACW Program, and Public Legal Education and Information (PLEI).

In Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, Courtworkers are employees of the provincial/territorial government. In Nunavut, Courtworker services are provided through legal services clinics. Currently, the ACW Program operates in every province and territory with the exception of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

The following table outlines the roles and responsibilities of the key stakeholders of the Program.

Table 5: Roles and Responsibilities of Key Stakeholders of the ACW Program
Key Stakeholders Roles and Responsibilities
Justice Canada The Department of Justice Canada provides contribution funding to support the provision of Courtworker services by entering into contribution agreements with participating provinces and territories.
Provincial and Territorial Governments Provincial and territorial ministries are responsible for establishing the overall framework for the ACW Program within their jurisdiction. In most jurisdictions, court services divisions within the justice ministries administer the Program. Some jurisdictions include the ministry responsible for Aboriginal Affairs to ensure there is a consistent approach to services available to Aboriginal people. The provincial and territorial ministries ensure that sufficient financial assistance is available; enter into contractual arrangements with the SDAs to provide Courtworker services on their behalf (where appropriate); oversee delivery of services; and participate in the TWG as required.
Service Delivery Agencies SDAs provide direct services by way of the Courtworkers to Aboriginal persons before the court through annual contracts with provincial and territorial governments. Funding is based on a schedule of eligible costs. In most jurisdictions, Courtworker services are delivered by Aboriginal SDAs under contract to the provincial or territorial government. In Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, Courtworkers are employees of the provincial/territorial government. In Nunavut, Courtworker services are provided through legal services clinics.
Aboriginal Courtworkers

To help Aboriginal people charged with a criminal offence receive fair, equitable and culturally sensitive treatment before the law, Courtworkers:

  • provide Aboriginal persons charged with an offence and their family members with timely and accurate information at the earliest possible stage of the criminal justice process;
  • refer Aboriginal persons charged with an offence to appropriate legal resources at key stages of the justice process (e.g., arrest, trial, sentencing), as available and where practical;
  • refer Aboriginal persons charged with an offence to appropriate social, education, employment, medical, Aboriginal community and other resources to ensure they have assistance in addressing the underlying problems that contribute to their charges and, where appropriate, advocate for services to Aboriginal persons before the court and ensure, to the extent possible, that those services are delivered;
  • provide assistance, as appropriate, to other Aboriginal persons involved in the criminal justice process;
  • promote and facilitate practical, community-based justice initiatives, and help build community capacity to identify and address problems which could end up in the court or community justice system; and,
  • serve as a "bridge" between criminal justice officials and Aboriginal people and communities by advocating for Aboriginal persons before the court, providing liaison, and promoting communications and understanding between these two entities.
Federal, Provincial and Territorial Working Group On a policy level, the ACW Program is guided by an FPT Working Group, which serves as a policy forum for ongoing monitoring of inter-jurisdictional issues that concern the Program.
Tripartite Working Group The TWG consists of two federal representatives, one provincial/territorial official and one SDA director from each jurisdiction. Reporting to the FPT Working Group, the TWG has a mandate to serve as a forum for addressing a range of program issues related to the ACW Program and Aboriginal people in contact with the criminal justice system.

Courtworker services target the following groups:

  • Aboriginal persons charged with an offence and, in the territories where Courtworkers are active in both civil and criminal matters, Aboriginal persons involved in civil matters;
  • All Aboriginal people regardless of age, status or residency throughout Canada where services exist;
  • Justice officials, including court officials (legal aid, defence counsel, Crown counsel, clerks/judicial assistants), judiciary (judges and justices of the peace), law enforcement, parole/probation officers, and agencies responsible for transport and/or custody of Aboriginal persons before the court; and
  • Other stakeholders including the Aboriginal community, Aboriginal agencies and community justice initiatives, referral agencies, as well as families of Aboriginal persons before the court (accused), co-accused, Aboriginal victims and Aboriginal witnesses.

2.3. Program Activities

The services provided by Courtworkers under the ACW Program are listed below.

Services Delivered by Courtworkers

  • Out-of-Court Services

    • Conduct client Footnote 5 intake (interviews, assessments, documentation, circumstances of clients)
    • Assist clients in receiving appropriate care, particularly those in custody
    • Prepare cases, including documentation, statistics, court briefs and reports
    • Provide information on nature of charge, rights, court procedures, roles and responsibilities, alternative/restorative justice options, and sentence
    • Assist in accessing and interpreting documented information and forms for clients
    • Assist in coordinating and preparing applications for bail for clients
    • Provide information to "clients' sureties"
    • Facilitate linkages with translation/interpreter services
    • Provide information to clients on disposition or directions given by court
    • Provide general information and/or assistance to Aboriginal victims of crime (where no conflict of interest exists)
    • Follow up with criminal justice personnel regarding outcome of case
    • Follow up with client or SDAs regarding services provided (time permitting)
    • Assist in the dialogue between Aboriginal persons before the court, court officials, judiciary and others
    • Provide non-therapeutic counselling and emotional support
  • Referrals

    • Find out about available resources, support and contacts for clients
    • Make appropriate referrals to non-clients seeking services
    • Explain what resources and support services are available to clients and who to contact
    • Make referrals to legal counsel and bail programs to clients
    • Assist clients in accessing resources and support where available
  • In-Court Services

    • Assist clients to appear before the court
    • Attend court (except where not authorized)
    • Provide in-court support to clients and court officials
    • Provide information about relevant legal procedure to clients, and to judicial and court officials, thereby acting as a "friend of the court" to provide information to the court on community resources and sentencing options available
    • Provide cultural interpretation
    • Negotiate with Crown counsel on behalf of unrepresented clients
    • Speak to adjournment/remand, and (in some jurisdictions) sentence applications, reviews and bail applications
  • Alternative/Restorative Justice Services

    • Facilitate use of and (in some jurisdictions) participate in alternative/ restorative/ Aboriginal justice processes, including alternative dispute resolution
  • Partnerships and Advocacy

    • Participate in justice inter-agency and community-based committees
    • Identify gaps, needs, successes and learning
    • Establish networks and partnerships with community and justice system organizations
    • Support community development initiatives (justice, social, health, other)
    • Conduct or contribute to research on systemic issues impacting Aboriginal people and the justice system
    • Participate in national, provincial and community dialogues on Aboriginal justice policies and issues affecting Aboriginal persons before the court
    • Advocate for enhanced policies, services and processes for Aboriginal persons before the court
  • Courtworker and Community Education/Training

    • Provide training to Courtworkers
    • Provide presentations, workshops and training to other people involved in criminal justice system and alternative justice processes, including student placements and career days
    • Promote understanding within the Aboriginal community of the existing criminal justice system and alternative justice processes
    • Provide public education (public presentations, explaining goals of the Program)

2.4. Program Budget

The Program is cost-shared by the federal government and provincial/territorial governments through bipartite contribution agreements. From 1993 to 2000, the federal government funding for the ACW Program was fixed at $4.5 million annually. In the December 2001 budget, an increase of $1 million in ongoing funding was approved. Since 2002, annual federal government funding for the Program has remained at $5.5 million under two successive agreements (for four years from 2004/05 to 2007/08, and subsequently from 2008/09 to 2012/13).

The costs of program delivery are shared with the respective provincial and territorial governments. In the three territories, federal funding for Courtworker services is provided under the broader Access to Justice Services Agreements that combine elements of legal aid, the ACW Program and the PLEI Program into a single agreement. Of the total annual budget of $5.5 million, $4,836,363 is notionally allocated among the provinces, and $588,637 is allocated amongst the territories to Courtworker services under the Access to Justice Services. An annual amount of $75,000 is available to support TWG projects in support of the ACW Program (Component 2).

Table 6: ACW Program Funding – Annual Notional Allocation
Fiscal Years 2008/09 to 2012/13
Allocation Funding
Alberta $1,009,010
British Columbia $993,737
Manitoba $435,313
Newfoundland and Labrador $98,312 Footnote 6
Nova Scotia $110,685
Ontario $1,039,597
Quebec $529,694
Saskatchewan $620,015
Total Provincial Allocation (Component 1) $4,836,363
Territorial Allocation Footnote 7 $588,637
TWG Projects in Support of the Aboriginal Courtwork Program (Component 2) $75,000
Total Federal Government Contribution $5,500,000

* Source: ACW Program Terms and Conditions 2010

In addition to the $5.5 million, the Department of Justice provided $2.25 million beginning in 2008/09 until 2011/12, as one-time funding for the four-year Project Fund. The Project Fund resources were distributed on a case-by-case basis. Federal contributions up to a maximum of $40,000 per jurisdiction could be made to a province or territory, an Aboriginal Courtwork SDA, or an Access to Justice SDA that undertook to administer projects involving:

  • One-time or annual ACW Program events and initiatives (as opposed to ongoing projects and programs) that directly benefit the ACW Program and build bridges, trust and partnerships between the mainstream justice system and Aboriginal communities (e.g., training, outreach, research, innovations and pilot projects);
  • Activities targeted at improved reporting for the ACW Program; and
  • The design, development and maintenance of ACW Program data collection management systems.

2.5. Intended Outcomes

The core activities of the Department of Justice Canada in managing the ACW Program include:

  • Negotiating and monitoring contribution agreements with provinces and territories: the federal government enters into multi-year contribution agreements with provincial/territorial governments, which in turn enter into contractual arrangements with third-party delivery agents that provide Courtworker services within their jurisdiction. The primary output of this activity is funded contribution agreements.
  • Creating the tripartite forum: the ACW Program is guided by the TWG, which serves as a forum to address program and operational issues.

The services delivered under the contribution agreements provide support and non-legal advice to Aboriginal persons charged with an offence, and provide information and advice to the formal justice system (court officials, duty counsel, legal aid lawyers, judges, etc.) in an effort to increase the awareness and understanding of the issues related to Aboriginal people in the justice system. In turn, these services help to:

  • Increase awareness of rights, obligations and resources available to Aboriginal persons before the court. Courtworkers provide non-legal advice and support to the Aboriginal persons charged with an offence in a non-threatening manner. Providing one‑on‑one service allows for the necessary time to communicate effectively with Aboriginal persons before the court and be assured that they have a full understanding of their rights and obligations, as well as community resources/programs that may be available to them.
  • Increase communication between the client and judicial and court officials within court proceedings. The Courtworker is the link between Aboriginal persons appearing before the court and the judicial and court officials, and facilitates the necessary communication that will lead to improved court processes by raising judicial and court officials' awareness of the complex issues relating to many Aboriginal persons appearing before the court.
  • Increase linkages among Aboriginal communities, the community justice system and the formal justice system. The strategic positioning of the Courtworker within the court system and the Aboriginal community provides the Courtworker with the opportunity to facilitate the necessary links between the Aboriginal community and the justice system. These efforts are expected to lessen the alienation that Aboriginal communities feel towards the justice system, and to improve the connections with evolving community justice programs. Furthermore, as the awareness is raised, it is anticipated that judicial and court officials will react in a more culturally sensitive manner. This is of particular importance when considering the precedent-setting court decisions (e.g., Gladue, etc.) and how those precedents apply to Aboriginal persons appearing before the court.

Outside the direct delivery of Courtworker services, but as part of the ACW Program, the TWG provides a transparent and collaborative environment that contributes to policy development of the Program. The exchange of ideas and best practices across jurisdictions, the shared learning with respect to issues of mutual concern (e.g., database investments, etc.) and the airing of common concerns are anticipated to enhance service delivery and policy development in this area. As ACW Program stakeholders collaborate within the TWG, there is the opportunity to bring together a variety of perspectives on Aboriginal justice policy. It is therefore anticipated that this ongoing dialogue will have a positive impact on Aboriginal justice policy development.

As indicated in the logic model (Figure 1), over time, the Program is designed to help ensure that Aboriginal persons charged with a criminal offence receive fair, equitable and culturally sensitive treatment before the court, thereby increasing their access to justice.

Figure 1: Aboriginal Courtwork Program Logic Model

Figure 1: Aboriginal Courtwork Program Logic Model

Figure 1 - Text equivalent

The activities for the ACW Program are:

  • Negotiate and monitor contribution agreements with provinces and territories; and
  • Support tripartite forum

The outputs include:

  • Funded contribution agreements; and
  • Secretariat Support to TWG

The immediate outcomes are:

  • Provide support and advice to Aboriginal persons before the court leads to the intermediate outcome of: increased awareness of rights, obligations and resources available to Aboriginal persons before the court; and
  • Provide information and advice to justice system.

Combined, these two immediate outcomes will lead to the intermediate outcome of:

  • Increased communication with court proceedings between Aboriginal persons before the court and court personnel.

The third immediate outcome is: Tripartite collaboration on Courtworker Program and policy.
The remaining intermediate outcomes are:

  • Increased linkages among Aboriginal community, community justice system and the formal justice system; and
  • Increased program collaboration between FPT stakeholders.

The ultimate outcome for the Aboriginal Courtwork Program is for Aboriginal persons to receive fair, equitable and culturally sensitive treatment before the court.

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