An Edmonton non-profit agency has released a new cartoon designed to take away the anxiety for young children who are facing the daunting task of testifying in court.
The media department of Native Counselling Services of Alberta produced the short animated film Radiant Goes to Court. In it, a cartoon bear helps a young girl understand what it will be like in the courtroom.
"We read a lot about how kids end up testifying in court, and typically they are victims of abuse, and so it's an extremely scary situation," explained Greg Miller, the cartoon's writer, producer and director.
BearPaw Media Productions, which is affiliated with BearPaw Legal Education and Resource Centre, has been making films examining Indigenous legal issues since 1976. The new production is its first cartoon.
"We wanted to keep the weight of the subject and not make light of it but also make it approachable for kids and something that is safe to talk about," Miller said.
After creating popular comic books featuring the bear Muskwa, Miller wanted to bring the character to life in a cartoon that was both magical and educational for children between the ages of four and 11.
There's also a colouring book telling the same story.
Muskwa's kindness and wisdom gets added authenticity through the voiceover work of Cree actor Lorne Cardinal, best known for his role in the sitcom Corner Gas.
The cartoon begins with the young girl telling Muskwa she's scared about going to court. The story explores the kinds of things she can do to make it easier.
Themes would resonate with any child
Muskwa takes the girl to a courtroom to prepare her for the experience, and gives her some concrete ideas to help along the way, such as bringing her favourite teddy bear.
"Research showed us children are allowed to bring a toy, they're allowed to have a support person. Sometimes there are screens or closed-circuit cameras so these are all things we wrote into the script," Miller said.
While the cartoon is aimed at Indigenous children who are crime victims or witnesses, Miller says the themes and values that are covered would resonate with any child.
The cartoon, funded by the Alberta Law Foundation, is already on YouTube and Native Counselling Services plans to have its court workers around the province use it as a resource for children preparing for hearings.
'Non-threatening' introduction to legal concepts
Patti LaBoucane-Benson, the cartoon's executive producer, said her research over the years has shown many Indigenous people feel helpless when trying to navigate the justice system.
"This can help people who perhaps have low literacy rates, like children who don't read that well or parents with a lower literacy rate," she said. "This video is a very nice way of introducing some important legal education concepts in a way that is non-threatening."
LaBoucane-Benson, who previously wrote an award-winning graphic novel and is a member of Alberta's child intervention panel, said any of the agencies working with children can feel free to watch and share it.
Miller said the key message that comes through is for children to tell the truth and feel confident about doing it.
"Any time you can help kids to understand something that is very fearful and take a little bit of the shame out of it and make it fun and approachable is really what we want."