The past 30 years have brought a lot of change to the Provincial Court of Alberta, with the recognition that the traditional adversarial process is not necessarily the most appropriate for every process or for every population. As a result, different special courts have been set to deal with cases in a therapeutic and culturally appropriate manner.
Mental Health Court
The Edmonton Mental Health Court, established in 2018, deals with accused that are in trouble with the law at least in part because of mental health issues. The Court uses a therapeutic model, which involves a collaborative and healing approach. The Court has the help of a dedicated prosecutor, a dedicated duty counsel, a Legal Aid resource person, a dedicated mental health worker, and a psychiatrist.
When an accused meets the criteria and volunteers to participate, the Court uses a collaborative approach to find a solution, with the help of the team of professionals. The solution always includes a therapeutic or healing objective.
Similar to other criminal courts, the Crown counsel and the defence counsel are the principal parties in the Mental Health Court, and the Judge attempts to arrive at a decision that is fair and effective. However, in this Court the process is slowed down, the specific circumstances of the accused are taken into account, and the Judge has the help of a group of legal and health professionals to guide the decision. The focus is on addressing the problems that cause the behaviour, rather than on punishing the offender.
The Court also handles assessments to determine fitness or criminal responsibility, fitness hearings and applications for treatment orders.
The Edmonton Mental Health Court sits three days per week, each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Calgary Indigenous Court
The Calgary Indigenous Court (CIC) was established in 2019 to provide a culturally relevant, restorative, and holistic system of justice for Indigenous individuals, including offenders, victims and the community harmed by an offender’s actions. The CIC is a response to the unique challenges and circumstances of the Indigenous people.
The CIC sits every Wednesday beginning at 9 a.m. in Courtroom 1800 of the Calgary Courts Centre. It deals primarily with bail and sentencing hearings, and is open to any offender who is Indigenous and chooses to participate in the CIC. The focus is on a restorative justice approach to crime through peacemaking and connecting accused people to their cultures and communities. The CIC utilizes dedicated judges who are either Indigenous or experienced in Indigenous Restorative Justice, a designated Indigenous Crown Prosecutor, designated duty counsel and Indigenous Legal Counsel, Restorative Justice Peacemakers, Traditional Knowledge Keepers, Indigenous Court Workers and community support agencies.
Indigenous Courts in Indigenous Communities
The Court holds special hearings in different indigenous communities. At the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, a restorative court model started in 1993 which promotes community involvement in the court process. A local justice committee provides recommendations for sentencing options as well as assistance to the court in identifying appropriate community-based alternatives.
At the Siksika Nation, the Provincial Court of Alberta sits on the reserve and has been served since 1998 by a Judge of Aboriginal heritage and a dedicated Crown prosecutor from the Calgary Crown Prosecutors’ office. This arrangement permits the Crown prosecutor to form a close working relationship with the Nation and supports the provision of culturally sensitive prosecution services.
The first Aboriginal Court in Canada was the Tsuu T’ina First Nation Court (or Peacemaking Court), established in October 2000. The Tsuu T’ina Court has jurisdiction over criminal, youth, and bylaw offences committee on the Tsuu T’ina reserve. The Tsuu T’ina Court is a marriage of two separate systems: the Alberta Provincial Court and the Peacemaker process, which work together in a unique way.
The Provincial Court of Alberta started a Drug Treatment Court in 2005. The program is intended to break the cycle of criminal behavior driven by drug addiction, by offering participants a chance to avoid prison and complete a drug treatment program in the case of non-violent offences. The program is comprehensive and aims to reduce the number of crimes committed to support drug dependence through judicial supervision, drug abuse treatment, frequent drug testing, incentives, sanctions and social services support. Calgary and Edmonton have a Drug Treatment Court program.
A specialized Domestic Court started in Calgary in 2000 (specialized docket) and 2005 (specialized court process). Domestic violence courts recognize the unique characteristics of violence between family members. They emphasize the importance of early and effective intervention in abusive situations in order to increase victim safety and allow for a greater chance of offender rehabilitation. These courts work with social service agencies and workers to provide support services for victims and require offenders to take responsibility for their actions, not only through regular legal sanctions, but also through monitoring and counselling.