First Nations court ready for launch in Prince George

Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Mark Nielsen
Prince George Citizen

Prince George will soon be home to a First Nations court.

An opening ceremony will be held on March 23, the B.C. Provincial Court confirmed this week, while the court is to start hearing cases in the first week of April.

It marks the culmination of three years of effort by a working group in answer to the number of indigenous people caught up in the criminal justice system.

The announcement put Christina Draegen, northern regional manager of the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of B.C., in an upbeat mood.

"We're so excited," she said Tuesday. "This is history we're making in the north with respect to this approach to justice."

It will be based out of the Prince George courthouse and to have a case heard in the venue, the offender must be aboriginal and have pleaded guilty to a minor crime.

From there, a provincial court judge would oversee a process similar to a restorative justice sentencing circle with the stakeholders gathering around a circular table to discuss the case.

With the help of friends, family and other advocates, a picture would be painted for the judge of who the offender is and the underlying reasons that brought him or her into conflict with the law.

With the help of an elder, a "healing plan" is drafted, focussed primarily on dealing with the issues that got the offender in trouble in the first place, but could also include doing community work and repaying the victim for the damage done.

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