Thunder Bay·Audio

Aboriginal Peoples Court 'long overdue' in Thunder Bay

The Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre is laying the groundwork for an Aboriginal Peoples Court in the northwestern Ontario city.

Proposed court would incorporate Aboriginal traditions, cultures and medicines

Frances Wesley, (left) is coordinating workshops to help lay the ground work for an Aboriginal Peoples Court in Thunder Bay. Friendship Centre executive director Charlene Baglien, (right) says bringing the initiative to reality would be a dream come true. (Jody Porter/CBC)
When it comes to aboriginal peoples in the justice system the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship believes an aboriginal court in the city would be a step in the right direction. 5:33
The Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre is laying the groundwork for an Aboriginal Peoples Court in the northwestern Ontario city.

Brantford, Ont. is home to the province's first Aboriginal Peoples Court, opened in 2014. Advocates in Thunder Bay say they want to create their own version that would incorporate aboriginal traditions and cultures.

The initiative is in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendation to eliminate the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in custody, said Friendship Centre executive director Charlene Baglien.

"There's lots of aboriginal people coming through the courts and with the recent Truth and Reconciliation report, they make it very clear that there is a need for other alternative justice mechanisms, Baglien said.

It makes sense to explore those alternatives in Thunder Bay, a focal point for First Nations people from remote communities and courts, she said.

- Frances Wesley

A meeting will be held this summer to gather the wisdom of aboriginal elders when it comes to justice. Other workshops will focus on educating legal professionals about the troubled relationship between aboriginal people and the law.

It's Frances Wesley's job to organize those workshops. She's the new the urban judicial partnership coordinator.

Regular courts race through the docket and don't have time to consider the life experiences of someone who has been charged, or to contemplate healing, Wesley said.

"In the courtroom that we're envisioning we could sit in a circle and talk with each other and we wouldn't have to race with time," she said. "When you talk about the things that have impacted us, you can't just say it in a few seconds and walk out of the courtroom. It's a long healing process."

A healthier community for everyone is the ultimate goal of an Aboriginal Peoples Court, Wesley said.

When her contract ends in March 2016, Wesley hopes the city is ready to embrace the concept.

"It's long overdue," Baglien said. "To see this a reality would be a dream of mine."