Courting Saskatchewan

On Monday, we used Saskatchewan Provincial Court Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond as an example of the kind of candidate the special parliamentary committee responsible for appointing British Columbia's new child and youth representative might have been looking for. And today, the Times Colonist's Lindsay Kines and Jeff Rud confirmed Ms. Turpel-Lafond has, in fact, been selected to fill that post. What an astounding coincidence! So what, you may wonder, is her background?

Well, in addition to being "the first treaty Indian and the first aboriginal woman to serve on the bench in Saskatchewan," Ms. Turpel-Lafond recently made headlines as one of the judges the Indigenous Bar Association would like to have seen elevated to the Supreme Court of Canada. But a review of Saskatchewan press clippings shows she hasn't had any trouble getting in the newspapers.

Since becoming a member of the judiciary, Ms. Turpel-Lafond has been a strong advocate for those with fetal alcohol syndrome. Speaking to Canadian Association for the Practical Study of Law in Education conference delegates last year, she wondered why those with the syndrome aren't "being diagnosed until they are 12 and in my courtroom? That is a big issue. Poor attachment by the family to health-care roviders is an issue. Poor access to diagnostic services, particularly in the north, is a major, major issue. Poor access to pre-natal health care is a big issue."

In 2003, Ms. Turpel-Lafond suggested widespread reforms in the justice system to accomodate fetal alcohol sufferers. "I think we should look at FAS and (opening therpeutic courts where you would have teams associated with it do the diagnosis, do the planning, and monitor the youth in the community," she said in an interview with The Star-Phoenix's Lana Haight.

And she tried to enact some of those reforms herself just two years after being appointed to the bench. In May 2000, Ms. Turpel-Lafond issued a controversial probation order for a 16-year-old believed to have fetal alcohol syndrome. That order would have seen the assign the teen "a youth worker with special training and understanding in the organic brain impariment" and that his care "an in-patient treatment centre with an aboriginal focus...special education supports, and special supports in terms of reference" - services that weren't being offered by the department of social services.

As a result, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, struck down that order, stating "There is nothing in the (Young Offenders) Act that gives a youth court judge power to order governments to create programs no matter how badly they are needed." Although the court acknowledged "her motivation and that of her colleagues in similar cases is to try to break the cycle of criminal behaviour."

Ms. Turpel-Lafond also made it into the papers in 1999 after speaking to a Federation of Saskatchewan Indian First Nations accountability and governance conference. At that conference, she said "The media would have us believe the problem of accountability is a crisis in leadership in Indian country in Saskatchewan and Canada. I don't agree. I think this is a far too limited view of the problem and only serves to reinforce some very profund stereotypes that are out there about Indian people."

According The Star-Phoenix's James Parker, Ms. Turpel-Lafod - a former legal counsel to the federation - blamed "inadequate budgets, federal legislation that limits the autonomy of band governments, extreme poverty that creates huge economic disparities on reserves and historical injustices that have left aboriginal people culturally devastated, politically marginalized and economically disadvantaged" for those accountability problems.

That outspokeness prompted the Saskatchewan Party call on government to impose conduct guidelines for provincial court judges. And, in a subsequent story, Mr. Parker paraphased then First Nations Coalition for Accountabiloity president as saying "Turpel-Lafond's comments could be a major setaback in the battle to make band governments more accountable." Although, in fairness, just a year before, the soon-to-be judge was waging her own war for more accountability among those governments - recommending the adoption of conflict-of-interest guidelines and a code of ethics by First Nations leaders.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Turpel-Lafond has also expressed concern about aboriginals caught up in the justice system. Although, in an interview with Mr. Parker soon after being appoint to the bench, she said, "The biggest mistake people can make about me is that I have no independence in my perspective, that I'm there inside the system as an advocate for Indian people. I'm there as an advocate for justice and as public servant or everyone in Saskatchewan."

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's resume includes a doctorate in law from Harvard University, as well as being named one of the top 20 Canadian leaders for the 21st century by Time magazine in 1999. She is married to former Saskatoon Tribal Council vice-chief George Lafond.

10 Comments

This and other comments she has made regarding the role of democracy in the selection of native band councils answers my earlier question about why anyone in their right mind would want to take on this position given the Government animosity towards it.

Looks like Ms. Turpel-Lafonde has found herself a pulpit. Given the turmoil in the Province with native groups and various issues, this should be an extremely explosive upcoming year!

The appointment of the Honourable Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond as the Representative of Children and Youth of BC makes sense in the climate of the day. Clearly she has a great deal of passion, experience and principles of justice for Aboriginal people. They will need her wise counsel and voice as the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal child welfare and income assistance systems continue to be devolved, contracted out and privatized over the next few years. One might also speculate as to whether Ted Hughes had a hand in the recommendation of this candidate who he would likely have known well, as he was a former judge of the Court of Queen's Bench of Saskatchewan?

I find it very difficult to believe that the committee could find no qualified, nor suitable candidates for this crucial position from those who are from BC, who have worked in these systems and been witness to the events of the last decade (or longer). Isn't it interesting, two of the most important appointments in the BC child welfare system in 2006 and both are "outsiders," Lesley Du Toit, Deputy Ministy from South Africa and Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond from Saskatchewan? I find it astounding no homegrown candidates could be found for these jobs in BC. So much for succession planning in the BC government, or otherwise.

In any event, the appointment iss long overdue and much needed as the child welfare, income assistance and child care systems continue to lurch from crisis to crisis.

The NDP have it right though, try to get the Liberals to have a little chat about it all. I can't believe they continue to say things are rosy and bright in MCFD, re: homelessness, income assistance, or otherwise for too many citizens in this province. It's the opposite of that and they have the stone cold data to say contrary. Like a pathological liar though, if you keep telling the same story over and over, it becomes truth to someone.

Carole James seemed to get it absolutely right yesterday when, in her dignified way, she presented the factual documents which argued her point irrefutably.

Mind you, nobody will ever best the Joy-and-Jenny Opposition. But yesterday was the first-ever time I felt that Carole was able to present a forceful Opposition. I also had the uncanny feeling that a Judge from NDP-land was watching over her.

Hopeful signs, I'd say.

Social Justice.

I can't argue that Ms. Turpel-Lafond is a very capable person but given the status of native issues in BC and the simple fact that many of the children that find their way into BC care are native, I don't think that we can overlook her background.

The Cree's have been the most outspoken of the native groups in Canada with respect to International law and native self-rule. The origins of much of this activity dates back to 1980 when several Cree children died when the Quebec and Canadian Governments failed to act on healthcare and sewage committments. The Cree's attempt to raise the issue to the WHO but were blocked when the Canadian Government refused to allow it.

Given that the BC Government has undeniably failed to live up to its promises to protect children in this province (natives especially), is it unreasonable to be concerned that we will soon have a Cree lawyer who specializes in the pursuit of native rights of self-determination overseeing this department? Is this about protecting ALL children or using the situation in BC to further the cause of native groups?

C'mon kidlets, let's have you all get out of the anti-Gordo sandbox for a sec, please.....

This was a very good appointment and took this long because the Government needed complete clarity on this issue (something they have previously not had).

When credit's due, give with your heart. Altogether now, thanks to the Preem and his crew.

A very good call indeed.

Wow, if that's what you call an Opposition, Mary, we're in trouble.

One minor poke and not even decent coverage.

Admit it. The Carole experiment has failed and it's time to start over with some red meat eaters.

Well, NOBCMF, we sure as heck were in trouble; yesterday made it seem as if the Carole experiment might have turned a corner. Yesterday, Carole was a winner.

Let me begin with some self-disclosure. I am no fan of Gordon Campbell and the Liberals when it comes to child welfare. But I must give credit when credit is due. Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is an excellent choice (and in fact I can't think of a more eminently qualified candidate). Congratulations to the the Legislative panel for their excellent chioce.

The two parties met after the liberal side had to be dragged to the table. The Hughes went public and suggested they quit dragging things out and if they can't set up a couple of meetings the premier should bring in some folks that would. The committee looked at a lot of people and Judge Ellen Turpel-Lafond got the nod. It wasn't just Gordos side of the table, ti was both sides. Judge Hughes said some nice things about the new advocate as well. In my view the person with the job will be able and willing to rattle a few cages and get things done. My Gosh she has a good record as a lawyer and judge, her academic training is top of the line. She will be finishing off a few cases out of province and will soon be on the job. Welcome to BC Judge

I say welcome 2. You have a big important job ahead of you.

Many people will be giving you priorities but don't wait 2 long to find out why no Aboriginal people r on the CLBC board? You know it is responsible for special needs kids now as well as kids and adults with

CLBC board too busy swimming with horses?

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