What is a Circle Hearing?
A circle hearing is an alternative method to a mainstream parole hearing and is conducted with the same desired outcome, which is to determine whether an applicant is suitable for reintegration within the community.
Circle hearings are led and facilitated by Elders who are considered the gatekeepers of Indigenous knowledge and history, and hold critical roles in Indigenous communities.
The role of an Elder in a circle hearing is dynamic and can include:
- Facilitating the circle hearing process.
- Providing culturally appropriate support to the applicant.
- Providing advice and guidance to the OPB members.
Purpose of Circle Hearing
The purpose of a circle hearing is to create an environment that facilitates a culturally appropriate hearing process for Indigenous applicants (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) and one that will allow OPB members to gain a better understanding of the unique circumstances of the applicant and be able to assess culturally appropriate parole release plans. The circle hearing creates a non-confrontational environment for a hearing and welcomes the presence and contribution of an Indigenous Cultural Advisor.
The Ontario Parole Board (OPB) is committed to its responsibility to be responsive to the special needs of Indigenous people.
Protocols of Circle Hearing
After a circle hearing is opened by an Elder with a blessing or a ceremony, the Elder sets out the process for the hearing and passes the Eagle Feather to the applicant, who is the first to speak. The applicant can take as much or as little time as they want to tell their story: who they are, where they come from, the circumstances that led them to commit the offences for which they are seeking parole, what they have done during their time in jail, and details of the plan they have prepared for release.
Participants of a Circle Hearing
What makes a circle hearing unique is that participants sit together in a circle, eliminating hierarchy and restoring balance, to discuss the impact of the offence on the victim, the applicant, their families, and the community. In addition to the sitting Elder, the applicant, and the members of the OPB, participants of the circle can also include the applicant's support person, a Native Inmate Liaison Officer (NILO), a correctional officer, and if present, the victim and their support person. As the Eagle Feather makes its way around the circle, all participants are given the opportunity to speak, building a relationship of trust and increasing the strength of the circle.
Requesting a Circle Hearing
The applicant may complete the Requesting a Parole Hearing form which can be obtained from the ILO. On the form, the applicant should indicate which Indigenous community they identify with along with any special requests related to the protocol.