When a young Mi’kmaw man entered a community circle focused on healing the root causes of pain that led him to encounter legal troubles, one of his caseworkers knew he was on the path to turning his life around.
“He was able to become an advocate, he was able to become on-call, he began his volunteer work, and supporting people with addictions, and it was admirable,” said Mindy Gallant-Zwicker, a customary law program worker with the Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network (MLSN).
With help from MLSN, Landon Morton said he was able to confront and clear his criminal record.
“I remember when I was a client, coming in here and just being talked to like a human being, it made a huge difference. As somebody who was living on the streets, who has addictions concerns,” he said.
Gallant-Zwicker says MLSN provides support to First Nations people in Nova Scotia who need help navigating the justice system in order to move forward with their life in a positive way.
The community organization partners with the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program to help Indigenous people like Landon Morton work through healing and accountability for their actions.
“How do we bring in the community supports, bring in those elders, how do we help this person moving forward.”
“So, it’s not about reprimand, it’s about how do we heal them?” she said.
Gallant-Zwicker says MLSN was founded shortly after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Donald Marshall Jr.’s treaty right to catch and sell fish.
She says the aim was to build relationships between the justice system and the traditional values Mi’kmaw communities and elders lean on when seeking restoration.
“It was about healing, why did that person hurt the other person? And, how can we help them in the community, how can we help the community as a whole? Because, its’ not about individualism, it’s about the community as a whole,” Gallant-Zwicker said.
Morton’s file was picked up by the MLSN after his lawyer asked for a judicial referral to the restorative justice program prior to his sentencing.
“You need to know that you’re going to have someone who’s going to participate – whether it’s with MLS, or whether it’s with Community Justice Society, or another group – and you anticipate you have somebody who’s going to be sincere and is going, to be frank, and is going to be vulnerable, and something good is going to come out of this,” said Mark Knox, a Halifax lawyer.
Gallant-Zwicker says MLSN also offers post-conviction support and resources which is why she encourages anyone working within the justice system to consider making referrals to their program.
“If we can work on that healing component, then we can prevent a lot of recidivism. If they would just reach out and say ‘I want to work with MLSN,’ or the police say, ‘I think this is a great candidate’ or even the Crown – the Crown is so important to make those referrals,” she said.