Ceremony marks launch of Ottawa's first Indigenous peoples court

Ottawa's first court for Indigenous peoples was officially announced Friday with a ceremony at the Ottawa courthouse.

Court has been in the works for five years, says judge

Traditional drummers play at the ceremony to open Ottawa's new Indigenous peoples court. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

Ottawa's first court for Indigenous peoples was officially announced Friday with a ceremony at the Ottawa courthouse. 

The court is meant to address the high representation of Indigenous people in the Canadian criminal justice system. It will begin hearing cases Sept. 11.

Members of the provincial government, local Indigenous leaders and other officials spoke at the event. 

"It [took] a long time. We've happy we've achieved it," said Ontario Court Justice Celynne Dorval, noting talks surrounding the court had been in the works for five years.

"We're hoping that with proper resources … we can better serve the defendants and therefore reduce recidivism and reduce the rates of incarcerated Indigenous peoples."

The court will operate much like any other court, said Dorval, with a rotation of judges dealing with all types of criminal offences.

However, it won't conduct any trials and will only sit two half-days each week, she added.

Justice Celynne Dorval said it takes time and money to establish these courts, but she is glad the project has finally been realized. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

Lived experience taken into account

The court will also have a special team behind the scenes compiling what are known as Gladue reports. 

Gladue reports take their name from a 1995 court case in which an Indigenous defendant argued the court should have considered his lived experience as an Indigenous offender. 

Teams at the Indigenous court will write documents outlining what experiences in an offender's life should have an impact on their sentencing. 

Kara Louttit will work at the court, writing documents that explain the history of the offender in an effort to help the judge understand their experiences. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

"It's an important process to promote healing," said Kara Louttit, one of the court's four Gladue workers. "Systemic racism impacts our Indigenous offenders at every level in the criminal justice system."

Many at the ceremony said they hoped this court would be a step in the right direction. 

"In my experience, many [Indigenous offenders] feel like they're a file and number, and they're not treated as a person," said Greg Meekis, a newly-appointed bail supervisor. 

"It's going to be a more helpful and positive step. We deal with the why — why did this [crime] happen."

With files from Judy Trinh