A new location is being scouted for an Indigenous court in Williams Lake which has yet to open.
The long-awaited Indigenous court was to begin operations this spring inside the Williams Lake Courthouse.
COVID now has not only resulted in the cancellation of a grand opening scheduled for May 1 but the need for a new space where a judge, elders and the accused, joined with their legal representative, can safely sit around a table.
“It’s great to have Crown Counsel Sabena Thompson to be able to be with us and to help us and know every factor that goes into choosing a location,” said Samantha-Jo Dick, executive director of the Yeqox Nilin Justice Society.
Dick could not confirm which locations inside the city are being eyed but said there is one which is currently being assessed.
Once approved the Indigenous court will hear cases once a month amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our elders are our main priority, and I want to ensure that their health and well-being is very well taken care of,” Dick said, noting every precaution and safety measure will be followed.
Approved in December 2019, the court is hoped to reduce the over representation of Indigenous peoples in jail.
“Our traditional court system is not helping a lot of our offenders,” Dick said.
“Going through the system it’s almost like a revolving door, so I’m hoping that by thinking outside the box with Indigenous court that we’re able to put another angle to justice and we’re able to stop that revolving door in some way.”
Not every Indigenous person will have their day in Indigenous court. They are able to choose which system they would like to have their case to be heard with provincial court chief judge, Melissa Gillespie giving the final stamp of approval.
Indigenous courts offer alternative sentencing options that honour traditional cultural practices, support rehabilitation and acknowledge the impact the person’s actions have had on others, noted B.C’s Ministry of Attorney General.
“Sitting in front of a whole table of elders who are respected and having to be accountable for your actions is not a easy thing but I can guarantee that you’re going to walk out of there with a new found respect for your culture, your traditions and knowing that your actions did not only just affect yourself but all of these people it had a ripple effect on,” Dick said.