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Indigenous court opens at St. Paul Courthouse

Based on traditional and Indigenous principles, the St. Paul Healing to Wellness Court has opened at the St. Paul Courthouse and was celebrated on National Indigenous Peoples Day.

ST. PAUL - Firmly based on traditional and Indigenous principles, a new Indigenous court has opened at the St. Paul Courthouse.

A ceremony and celebration marking the beginning of the St. Paul Healing to Wellness Court took place on June 21 - National Indigenous Peoples Day. Teepees were set up in front of the St. Paul Courthouse, a list of dignitaries were in attendance and hundreds of people gathered to mark the occasion.

The Healing to Wellness Court will sit on the second and fourth Friday of every month in St. Paul, according to information from the Government of Alberta. During pre-court and court sittings, an eagle feather will be present during the administration of oaths and smudging may also take place when requested. 

Not all offences will be dealt with in the Healing to Wellness Court, and when Justice Ivan Ladouceur spoke to the crowd on Friday, he acknowledged the court was not a "free ride."

"To protect public safety, offences involving sexual violence, homicide, aggravated assault and robbery cannot be heard in the Healing to Wellness Court," according to information from the Government of Alberta. "Individuals will be accepted to the court at the pre-plea or post-plea stage of their criminal matter."

Speaking further about the development of the Healing to Wellness Court, Ladouceur said, "My grandfathers used to say, you have to look into the past before you go into the future." Ladouceur played a large part in the creation of the new Indigenous court, and his work was acknowledged throughout the speeches given on Friday.

"The Healing to Wellness Court, it's not a free ride - some people think it is. It is about accountability. We have to speak the truth," explained Ladouceur. 

"When we have a sentencing circle... that person who has done wrong stands in front of his family, in front of his community, and takes accountability," said Ladouceur, as he fought back tears. "It's about helping them change, helping that person stand on his own feet."

Ladouceur spoke about how he has done a lot of studying and reviewing how other courts do things, along with travelling south into the US to see how things are done by other Indigenous people. The success has been clear.

"It is time for change. We have a great justice system... but it keeps turning out the same results... it's destructive to our people and it continues to destroy the lives of individuals. So let us use this different system as a model for transformative change," said Ladouceur.

Through his work, he has noticed the over-representation of Indigenous people in court. "Five years ago it was 85 per cent. Last year, it's risen to 91 per cent."

Of the 106 people who attend an average docket day in St. Paul, 92 are Indigenous. An increase in female offenders has also been noted.


Ladouceur also spoke about the costs of keeping people in jail, and putting those funds to use in other ways. "I'm sure the taxpayers would appreciate it."

When an offender completes a healing plan, a ceremony will be held and an individual may have their charges withdrawn or receive a sentence that is informed by the person's accomplishments while working to complete their healing. 

The Government of Alberta will be providing the necessary resources for the Healing to Wellness Court, including a designated Crown prosecutor and two judicial clerks. 

"We honour the resilience of Indigenous Peoples and celebrate their many achievements and contributions. On National Indigenous Peoples Day, we reaffirm our government’s commitment to reconciliation," says Mickey Amery, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, who was in attendance in St. Paul on Friday. "The St. Paul Healing to Wellness Court supports these commitments, and I look forward to what it will accomplish in the St. Paul community.”

"This new court will provide Indigenous people in the St. Paul area with an innovative and holistic program that is aligned with their beliefs, cultures and tradition," said Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson, in a statement provided to media. "I am grateful for the Indigenous community members and support agencies helping with this important work."

James Hunter, Chief Justice with Alberta Court of Justice was also in St. Paul on Friday. He says Healing to Wellness Courts like the one in St. Paul aim to "repair the past but also build a foundation for a more inclusive and just future, promoting lasting peace and understanding."

The court is based on traditional Indigenous principles that have been used successfully in other places, but "tailored to meet the needs of Indigenous peoples living in and around the St. Paul area," says Hunter.

Janice Huser

About the Author: Janice Huser

Janice Huser has been with the St. Paul Journal since 2006. She is a graduate of the SAIT print media journalism program, is originally from St. Paul and has a passion for photography.
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