Kwanlin Dun looking at establishing circuit court

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation is hoping to have a circuit court up and running in the McIntyre subdivision by January of next year.

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation is hoping to have a circuit court up and running in the McIntyre subdivision by January of next year.

It would be similar to what other communities have, with court personnel, judges, lawyers and Crown prosecutors regularly travelling to the Whitehorse neighbourhood for cases impacting the community.

“We think that having more accountability right within our community is certainly one of our objectives,” said KDFN director of justice Jeanie Dendys.

“Community members have told us they feel a real disconnect between themselves and the downtown court system.”

Yukon territorial court sits every day in Whitehorse and regularly travels to each of the 13 communities, which is called circuit court.

For now the First Nation and the territorial government have had preliminary talks about setting up a stop in McIntyre.

Dendys said Territorial Chief Judge Karen Ruddy has offered to co-chair a working group.

Initially Dendys foresees only sentencing hearings taking place in the community before expanding to full trials.

Court matters are scheduled for hearing in the community where the offence is alleged to have taken place, Department of Justice spokesperson Tyler Plaunt told the News.

But the offender can also apply to the court to have the location changed, he added.

A McIntyre-based circuit court would also allow the First Nation to make submissions to the court, for example, during bail hearings, Dendys said.

“We would have more ability to provide submissions to the court and create that deeper awareness for the court on issues that are happening in the community.”

The move to a McIntyre-based circuit court is part of the First Nation’s broader strategy to make the community safer.

For the past year the First Nation has been regularly announcing new initiatives to reduce crime.

It launched a tip line last December and announced a community safety officer program last month, with KDFN citizens hired to patrol the community who residents could approach.

The initiatives came after two murders traumatized the community in 2014.

Statistics showed that over a thousand calls to 911 were made that year for a population of 500.

But a lot of calls to the police didn’t result in charges, Dendys said, as the community wasn’t providing the necessary information to the authorities.

The First Nation identified lack of confidence in the mainstream justice system as one of the reasons for that lack of co-operation.

Having court held in the community could improve residents’ trust in the system, she noted.

“Having this court established in the community will certainly help to gain greater access to justice and seeing justice done and potentially less barriers for them to come forward as witnesses,” Dendys said.

The KDFN Potlatch House, the only building big enough in the community, could be used for court hearings, she noted.

According to Dendys, the costs of running a circuit court in McIntyre would be minimal as it wouldn’t require the type of travelling other circuit courts in the communities demand.

“It’s essentially having the personnel that would normally sit in the Whitehorse courtroom to work in the community.”

The territorial department of justice confirmed that preliminary conversations happened but that costs and staffing requirements had to be looked at.

“The territorial court and the Department of Justice recognize that KDFN has the ability to draw down administration of justice power, including the creation and implementation of their own court system,” Plaunt said.

Court hearings have taken place in McIntyre in the past, Plaunt added.

In the long term, the First Nation wants to transfer some of the justice responsibilities from the territorial and federal governments back to them.

That possibility is set out in the KDFN self-government agreement.

The First Nation has been negotiating with both levels of government since 2013.

“We’ve had some really good discussion with Canada,” Dendys said.

“We’re feeling more optimistic about achieving a justice agreement in the near future.”

The Teslin Tlingit Council is the only self-governed First Nation in Canada with a justice agreement.

Signed in 2011, it established a Justice Council in charge of appointments to the peacemaker court.

That court only handles civil matters, ranging from hunting, wildlife and zoning to inheritance and adoption.

The first stage of the peacemaker court is to resolve issues through confidential mediation.

The second stage would be for the chief peacemaker to adjudicate the case, were the mediation unsuccessful.

That phase is not up and running yet. The First Nation is working to fill peacemaker positions.

The key difference is that the court follows the Tlingit way, known as Ha Kus Teyea.

“To summarize: it’s respect and honour of all living things,” Chief Peacemaker Gordon Reed told the News last month.

“Our goal is to have a healthy community by resolving dispute in a respectful and confidential way so our future generations will be safe.”

Part of the requirement for Reed’s job is to be of Tlingit ancestry and to be aware of Tlingit traditions.

Reed said he has handled several cases since April 2014.

It comes back to trust in the system.

“When a community takes ownership of their own issues it works a lot better for everyone rather than having a foreign system,” said Georgina Sydney, the TTC’s justice implementation co-ordinator.

The mainstream justice system, she said, is about going to court, paying a fine or going to jail.

“What we’re trying to do is go quite further than that: deal with the issue itself.”

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read