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First Nations Court focuses on restorative justice
A new First Nations Court in Duncan is aimed at community-based sentences that are more likely to assist in the rehabilitation of offenders.
"The First Nations Court has a number of First Nations elders who participate in the sentencing process,'' explained Brad Tomlin, Administrative Crown Counsel.
"While the final sentencing order is still made by the presiding Provincial Court Judge, the thoughts and recommendations from the Elders which arise from their interaction with the offender at the sentencing hearing can be a tremendous assistance to the Judge, who imposes the sentence.''
"We have the Elders Advisory Panel who assist with the Healing Plan or probation order,'' added Mabel Peter of the First Nations Court committee.
The court deals solely with provincial matters and is modeled after a similar court that's been operating successfully in New Westminster for many years.
"This is a sentencing court,'' said Peter. "They're pleading guilty and taking responsibility for their actions. It's one day a month and it goes in accordance to availability of judges and Crown Counsel people.''
Tomlin added any First Nations accused can ask to be sentenced in the court but Crown must agree to the request before any file is transferred.
"There are no additional funds,'' said Peter. "The current resources are still being used. We have a very few dedicated people that have been pushing it along.''
Tomlin emphasized the court's mandate is to have a restorative justice focus.
"The Elders' participation hopefully assists the offender in accepting that their rehabilitation truly is a major objective of the court.
"A major characteristic of the First Nations Court is that offenders return to the Court on a regular basis for sentence reviews. Hopefully, this assists in keeping the offender engaged in the process, but it also allows for variation of orders if it's necessary.''
The Court will be officially recognized with an opening ceremony Friday at the Quw'utsun' Cultural Centre that begins at 9 a.m. and continues until 12:30 p.m., with numerous speeches, prayers and dances — including a performance by the Tzinquaw Dancers. Everyone is welcome.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of B.C. Suzanne Anton will be present at the opening. There will also be addresses by Cowichan Tribes Chief Harvey Alphonse, neighbouring chiefs, Court Elders Ernie Elliott and Jillian Harris, Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree, Judge Buller Bennett and Hugh Braker of the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of B.C.