I read with interest Ian Mulgrew’s Vancouver Sun column “Do ‘specialized courts’ have real purpose, or are they just well-meaning Band-Aids?” I would like to put forward a different perspective from the rather bleak vision set out by Mr. Mulgrew.
The social service network and the support it provides to those with mental or addiction challenges are indeed important, and I think everyone agrees that these critical services should be well funded. However, the specialized courts address the issue of those already in the justice system. These courts provide an alternative to incarceration for non-violent offenders, and give these people the support they need to get them out of the judicial system so they can lead a productive life.
Mr. Mulgrew is correct to point out the experimental nature of these courts. The First Nations Court was put in place to address the disproportionate number of Indigenous people in Canada’s justice system. Despite making up only four per cent of the Canadian population, Indigenous people represent nearly 25 per cent of inmates. Between March 2005 and March 2015, the Indigenous inmate population increased by more than 50 per cent, compared to a 10 per cent overall population growth. This is an issue we simply cannot ignore, especially in light of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations published last year.
Contrary to Mr. Mulgrew’s claim, victims are recognized in the process. In Domestic Violence Courts, service providers attend the court weekly to facilitate access to information and services for victims. First Nations Court seeks to acknowledge and repair the harm done to victims and the community — these steps are built into the process.
Evaluations of alternative courts are underway. The First Nations Court is currently in year two of a three-year evaluation led by Dr. Shelly Johnson at the University of British Columbia. I look forward to reading the findings. The Provincial Court has also published reports on the impact of problem-solving courts on its website. Read for example, the research published in the Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy entitled “Drug Treatment Court of Vancouver (DTCV): An Empirical Evaluation of Recidivism” (pdf download). Contrary to Mr. Mulgrew’s article, this research points to the overall success of this program.
Readers who are interested in First Nations Court can look forward to hearing insights from Provincial Court Judge Len Marchand Jr. in the upcoming fall issue of the Law Society’s magazine, the Benchers’ Bulletin. Judge Marchand presides at the First Nations Court as part of a regular rotation with other local judges, and has seen first-hand the positive changes it has made in people’s lives.