Nova Scotia

Indigenous court opens in Wagmatcook First Nation

A special court that opened this week on the Wagmatcook First Nation in Victoria County, Cape Breton, combines provincial court services, along with Aboriginal Wellness court and Gladue court.

Special court serves all of Victoria County, but with separate courts for Indigenous people

The new court is located in the Wagmatcook Cultural and Heritage Centre. (Len Wagg/Government of Nova Scotia)

A special court that opened this week on the Wagmatcook First Nation in Victoria County, Cape Breton, heard 27 arraignments on a variety of charges.

The court combines provincial court services, along with Aboriginal Wellness court and Gladue court. 

'Gladue' refers to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that requires courts to take aboriginal circumstances into account when handing down a sentence.

The Wellness court is for Indigenous offenders who plead guilty and take responsibility for their actions, and for those who are at a high risk to reoffend. 

It delays sentencing for up to 24 months to allow for rehabilitation.

'It really is about reconciliation'

Nova Scotia Minister of Justice and Attorney General Mark Furey said the court represents a historic step forward.

Justice Minister Mark Furey said the new court is "about reconciliation." (Len Wagg/Government of Nova Scotia)

"It really is about reconciliation," said Furey. "It affords those residents of the Wagmatcook Mi'kmaq community greater access to justice and participation in the justice system in a less formal way that is more aligned to their traditions and their cultures and their practices."

The new court is located in the Wagmatcook Cultural and Heritage Centre and is presided over by Judge Laurie Halfpenny MacQuarrie one day a week.

The Wellness and Gladue courts serve residents of Wagmatcook and nearby Waycobah First Nation, and the provincial court serves all residents of Victoria County.

The court combines provincial court services, along with Aboriginal Wellness court and Gladue court. (Len Wagg/Government of Nova Scotia)

"It affords the [Indigneous] community an opportunity to welcome non-Indigenous people into their community," the minister said.

Until now, people from Victoria County have had to travel to Sydney for court proceedings since the Baddeck courthouse was closed in 2015.

About the Author

Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith was born and raised in Cape Breton. She began her career in private radio in Sydney and has been with CBC as a reporter, early morning news editor and sometimes host since 1990.