By Heather Ibbotson, Brantford Expositor
Earl Lambert is a Gladue court success.
His story of a journey from a courthouse regular “who didn't know how to stop being bad” to proud father, motivational speaker and “contributing member of society” held a courtroom full of listeners spellbound at the ceremonial opening of Brantford's new aboriginal persons' court on Tuesday.
Lambert, originally from B.C. but now living in Brantford, related his personal triumph over his own wrongs, as well as wrongs committed and suffered by several generations of family. Addiction, family violence, abuse in all its forms, neglect and criminality were, frankly, all he ever knew and all that most of his family ever knew.
However, an “internal motivation to heal,” a willingness to embrace all manner of counselling and support, and a Gladue report that exposed the tragedies of his upbringing for a court's consideration allowed Lambert to break that cycle.
“I changed the bad people and places and things (in my life) with good ones,” he said.
Lambert was among guest speakers from the legal system and the Six Nations community at the ceremonial opening for the court, which opens this month at Brantford's Ontario Court.
It is set to run two days per month, and will deal with criminal guilty pleas and sentencings. At this point, no bail hearings, trials or domestic violence cases will be heard in the special court. Aboriginal accused persons have the option of proceeding with guilty pleas in the aboriginal persons' court or in the regular court stream.
Aboriginal persons' courts are designed to allow for in-depth examination of a native person's background to identify the roots of behaviour and lifestyle (such as intergenerational abuse, addiction and the scars of residential schooling) and to propose plans for community support to enable healing and rehabilitation. The ultimate aim is to remedy the Canada-wide problem of statistical over-incarceration of aboriginals.
There are Gladue courts currently operating in Sarnia, London and Toronto.
Elected Six Nations Chief Ava Hill expressed her congratulations for the determination and energy that led to the set up of the new court and said she hopes it will make a difference.
Crown Attorney Bob Kindon said the new court will offer an opportunity to look at all possible alternatives to incarceration for aboriginal offenders while still advocating for victims, as well as public safety.
Justice Gethin Edward, who was the driving force behind the local aboriginal persons' court initiative, said the new court should be seen as offering potential, not guarantees.
“We cannot guarantee success in each case,” he said.
“But the common purpose will be to help an aboriginal offender turn his or her life around,” Edward said.
The Tuesday ceremonial program began and ended with traditional words of thanks from Six Nations elder Jan Longboat.
“This is truly a historic day,” she said.