Celebrating justice: 'A long time coming'

Sylvie Paillard / Kamloops Daily News
August 13, 2013 01:00 AM

First Nations drummers from various aboriginal communities gathered to welcome the new Cknucwentn First Nations court in Kamloops on Monday afternoon at the Kamloops Law Courts.

Kamloops Law Courts room 2D is usually a sombre place that few wish to visit - especially those on the wrong side of the law.

But on Monday, it was transformed into a place of hope and celebration when dozens came together to acknowledge the new Cknucwentn First Nations court.

Aboriginal band members and supporters of First Nations justice travelled from the entire region to attend a ceremony honouring everyone involved in bringing the court to Kamloops.

The new form of restorative justice mimics a few other courts recently established elsewhere in Canada.

It was first launched in Kamloops last March and so far 50 First Nations members of all ages have passed through the system.

"It's been a long time coming," Tk'emlups Indian Band councillors Jeannette Jules told a packed courtroom. "There's huge over-representation of First Nations in incarceration. We have to address the root cause."

Linda Thomas, legal counsel at Tk'emlups Indian Band, has been pushing for the program since 2008. It was approved last year by the chief administrative judge of B.C.'s provincial court.

She tearfully accepted the accolades of judges, politicians and advocates who gathered on Monday and delivered a long list of individuals who were also instrumental.

Among them is retired judge Cunliffe Barnett.

Barnett trained nine elders for 12 weeks to deliver a form of justice that is legal yet also addresses the larger context of offences, like homelessness, substance abuse or past trauma inflicted in such places as foster homes or residential schools.

A case will typically see five elders gathered at the table, along with the judge, lawyers and native court workers.

The sentence always includes a healing plan.

Two local provincial court judges - Stella Frame and Chris Cleaveley - will be assigned to the monthly court sessions hear only guilty pleas, not trials.

"Their success is our success," said Frame. "The days I've sat on that court have been the most fulfilling days I've had since becoming a judge."

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