The Provincial Court of Nova Scotia began hearing criminal matters in Wagmatcook First Nation on April 4, 2018. The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (Family Division) held its first sitting there on June 6, 2018. This is believed to be the first time a superior court in a Canadian province will hold regular sittings in a First Nations community.
What services will be provided at the new courthouse?
The Supreme Court (Family Division) will deal with child protection matters only, to start.
The Provincial Court sits once a week for arraignments, bail hearings, criminal trials and sentencings, both for Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals from Wagmatcook and We’koqma’q First Nations, and Victoria County. The Provincial Court also features Gladue and Healing to Wellness programs for Indigenous offenders only.
Gladue Courts in Canada traditionally deal with bail and sentencing only. The Provincial Court in Wagmatcook is unique because there will be trials held on reserve.
Individuals from Victoria County, who are not Indigenous, will also be arraigned, have bail hearings, trials, and sentencing hearings at the Provincial Court in Wagmatcook.
What is a Gladue Court?
If you are an Indigenous person seeking bail, or awaiting sentencing, your matter will go to the Gladue Court in Wagmatcook. The Court will incorporate Indigenous restorative justice traditions and customs, and will include extensive community input.
What is a Healing to Wellness Court?
This Court is dedicated to Indigenous offenders who plead guilty or accept responsibility for their actions, and are at a high risk to reoffend. This court program will look at the underlying factors that contribute to the person coming into conflict with the law. The sentencing process is delayed approximately 12-24 months to allow time for the offender to proceed through this healing plan. Like the Gladue Court, the Healing to Wellness Court will also will incorporate Indigenous restorative justice traditions and customs, and will include extensive community input.
What areas will this new Court serve?
This new courthouse will serve people charged in Wagmatcook and We’koqma’q First Nations, as well as those in Victoria County.
How often will the Court sit?
The Provincial Court will sit once a week, on Wednesdays, starting with an arraignment day. The second week will be a trial day. The third week the Court will not sit, as the judge will be presiding in Wellness Court in Port Hawkesbury. The final two weeks in the monthly cycle will focus on Healing to Wellness Court and Gladue Court, as needed.
The Supreme Court (Family Division) will hear child protectioln matters, as they arise.
What makes this court unique?
This Provincial Court is unique for several reasons. First and foremost, the Court is physically located in a First Nations community. This is in line with the recommendation in the Marshall Inquiry report calling for more Provincial Court sittings on Nova Scotia reserves, as well as the Calls to Action outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report.
Secondly, the Court model was developed in close consultation with the First Nations community, including the Chief, Council, Elders, and the service providers in both Wagmatcook and We’koqma’q First Nations. It will be guided and supported by aboriginal justice concepts, procedures and resources, which will help ensure it is meeting the individualized needs of Indigenous people coming before the Court.
The court team was also developed in consultation with the community and includes a dedicated judge, Crown attorney, Legal Aid lawyers, a probation officer and a Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network (MLSN) court worker.
The design and layout of the courtroom is unique. The Bench is shaped like a circle. This is a powerful symbol in the Indigenous community and represents the aboriginal medicine wheel and the Court’s restorative justice approach, focusing on the Seven Sacred Teachings.
The court building includes holdings cells, so the Court will be able to deal with prisoners on site. It also has video conferencing capabilities and dedicated offices for the Crown, Legal Aid counsel, the judge, the probation officer and the MLSN court worker, as well as interview rooms for defence counsel.