The Provincial Court in Wagmatcook First Nation is unique to Nova Scotia and among the few in the country that incorporates Indigenous restorative justice traditions and customs. It includes a Gladue Court, which deals with sentencing and bail matters, and a Healing to Wellness Court for Indigenous individuals who come into conflict with the law.
The court officially opened on June 21, 2018, National Indigenous Peoples Day, marking another important step toward reconciliation with the Indigenous community and improved access to justice for more Nova Scotians. It is located in the Donald Marshall Junior Centre for Reconciliation and Justice. The court's creation is in line with a Marshall Inquiry recommendation calling for more Provincial Court sittings in First Nations communities, as well as the Calls to Action outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report.
The Wagmatcook Provincial Court began hearing criminal matters 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 makes the Wagmatcook Provincial Court unique?
The Wagmatcook Provincial Court is unique for several reasons. First and foremost, the court serves as a full service court in the community, with all court related service providers in the facility. This contributes to meaningful access to justice.
Second, 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 is guided and supported by First Nations justice concepts, procedures and resources, which helps 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 attorneys, Legal Aid lawyers, probation officers, a court navigator, health centre staff, advisers from The Elizabeth Fry Society of Cape Breton, a cultural advisor and a court worker from the Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network (MLSN).
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 includes holdings cells, which enables bail on site. It also has video conferencing capabilities and dedicated offices for the Crown, Legal Aid, the Judiciary, probation officers, court navigator and the MLSN court worker, as well as interview rooms for defence counsel and a Circle room.
If you are an Indigenous person from Wagmatcook or We’koqma’q First Nations who is seeking bail or awaiting sentencing, your matter will go to the Gladue Court. This Court relies heavily on the Elders Community Justice Council and its recommendations in its Gladue principled approach.
Healing to Wellness Court
The Healing to Wellness Court is dedicated to Indigenous offenders who plead guilty or accept responsibility for their actions, and are at a high risk to reoffend. This wellness court program looks 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 also incorporates Indigenous restorative justice traditions and customs, and includes extensive community input.
What services are available at the courthouse in Wagmatcook First Nation?
The Supreme Court (Family Division) deals with child protection matters in Wagmatcook, as they arise.
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 as trials are held in the community.
A Mi'kmaw interpreter is always present as well as an Elder and guest speaker on Wellness Court days.
Individuals from Victoria County, who are non-Indigenous, are also arraigned, have bail hearings, trials, and sentencing hearings at the Provincial Court in Wagmatcook.