Provincial Court services will soon be established in Wagmatcook First Nation, including Nova Scotia’s first Gladue or specialty court. The court will support the cultural needs of aboriginal people in conflict with the law.
Justice Minister Diana Whalen announced today, April 24, that the province is investing $286,000 in the new court, which is expected to open later this year in the Wagmatcook Cultural and Heritage Centre. The Wellness and Gladue court will serve residents of Wagmatcook and Waycobah, and provide provincial court services to residents of Victoria County.
“I want to thank all of our partners, including Pam Eyking, MLA for Victoria-The Lakes, for joining us in a historic partnership that brought the first Gladue court to Nova Scotia,” said Ms. Whalen. “This is an important step forward in improving access to justice and providing a response that is culturally respectful of the community it serves.”
The establishment of court services in Wagmatcook First Nation supports the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Marshall Inquiry.
“Establishing Nova Scotia’s first Gladue and Aboriginal Wellness court in one of our Mi’kmaq communities is a welcomed step to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and recommendations of the Marshall Inquiry,” said Chief Paul Prosper, justice lead for the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs. “It is crucial that the provincial justice system serves aboriginal people and takes into account the background and cultural needs of the Mi’kmaq.”
Gladue courts serve aboriginal people who have matters before the court. They differ from traditional courts in that they take into account broader issues facing aboriginal people, such as the intergenerational trauma of residential schools. Gladue courts get their name from a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision that highlighted concerns about the discrimination against and over-representation of aboriginal people in the justice system.
A Wellness Court attempts to identify and address the root cause of the offending behavior and develop a recovery support plan that links people to services. The court in Wagmatcook will allow indigenous offenders to accept responsibility for their actions, which is more consistent with aboriginal culture. Similar Wellness Courts exist in Port Hawkesbury and Amherst.
“We have long advocated for a court in our region that is responsive to our culture and the needs our community. We are pleased that we can house it in our own community,” said Norman Bernard, chief, Wagmatcook First Nation. “This is important, not only for Mi’kmaq in Wagmatcook and We’koqma’q, but also for all the residents of Victoria County.”
The new court in Wagmatcook will also offer regular provincial court sittings for youth and adults. These will include arraignments, bail hearings and other matters.
“Having access to provincial court services is vital to our community,” said Bruce Morrison, warden, Victoria County. “The provincial court services at the Wagmatcook Cultural Centre in Victoria County are a result of our communities working together. This is good news for all.”
Discussions on expanded court services for the community have been underway for the past year. With this announcement, Wagmatcook joins Eskasoni to become the second First Nation community to offer court services on reserve.
Partners in the project include the Provincial Court Bench of Nova Scotia Judiciary, Wagmatcook and Waycobah First Nations, the Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network, Nova Scotia Legal Aid, the Public Prosecution Service, Victoria County, RCMP and the Nova Scotia Barristers Society.