First Nations Court opens in North Vancouver
May 16, 2012
The judge is out of her usual judging clothes and the court sheriff wears no gun.
It’s not immediately apparent — not at first — if these are just oversights, but when Judge Joanne Challenger turns from the convicted man to the packed public gallery and asks for any suggestions on sentencing and the hands go up, it becomes clear: First Nations Court is different.
It began in North Vancouver in February, modeled on a similar program in New Westminster that allows anyone who identifies as aboriginal and has been convicted of a crime in provincial court to have their sentence decided in a court that gives special heed to First Nations history.
Today is only the second ever sitting of the special sentencing court inside North Vancouver’s provincial courtroom No. 2.
And with the judge beckoning for sentencing input from any and all in attendance, a bidding war has begun for Anthony (not his real name), an 18-year-old just convicted of assaulting a police officer.
For the Saskatchewan-born teenager, this is not his first offence. In fact, he was already being arrested on an outstanding warrant at Lonsdale Quay when the North Van Mountie who spotted him was attacked.
But now in courtroom No. 2, a chorus of social workers, First Nations reps, aboriginal friendship groups and counsellors are all telling the judge the same thing: We want him.
“We’d be willing to take him in,” Sundance chief Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation pipes up to the judge, who’s seated not on her bench as usual, but down beside the convicted teen and his lawyer with piles of files spread between them.