Every three months a Provincial Court judge, two duty counsel lawyers, Crown counsel, two Sheriff’s and a court clerk drive 350 km west of Williams Lake to hold court in the primarily First Nations community of Anahim Lake. Judge Dennis Morgan, who has held court in Anahim Lake for the last 3 years, describes his circuit court experience like this.
“During the winter months travelling in a four wheel drive vehicle is recommended. The court group will stay for a week at a local motel and cabins. Often neither of the two restaurants is open for dinner. Staff will supply their own meals or organize informal group meals often cooked by a talented sheriff or, on occasional and less fortunate days, by the judge.
Anahim Lake is also known as ‘Ulkatcho’ which is a Carrier name meaning “people of the fat of the land”. Ulkatcho was originally the name of a village on Gatch Lake located approximately 80 km north of Anahim Lake. The Ulkatcho people were relocated to Anahim Lake in the 1950s to be closer to services such as a store, church and school. The area is also the western edge of the Tsilhqotin first nation and people from both groups make up the approximately 900 people living in the area.
Court is scheduled to sit from Monday afternoon till Thursday afternoon. The court time is used almost exclusively for criminal cases, although on occasion Small Claims matters are heard. Currently all family law and child protection files are heard in Williams Lake. The lawyers will arrive early Monday morning to meet with their clients. Crown and defense will often negotiate an appropriate resolution, frequently after consultation with community representatives. Although there is not a formal restorative justice program, court personnel are guided by a restorative justice culture that is appreciated by the community.
Anahim Lake Court House
The Chilcoltin, including Anahim Lake, has a significant ranching culture. It is not unusual to have to wait until a herd of open range cattle or horses condescends to move off the road to allow you to pass. The courthouse even has a hitching post.
Anahim Lake holds a popular rodeo each year where you may find Anahim Lake’s famous son, Carey Price, who is known locally for his team calf-roping skills, and internationally for his skills as goal tender for the Montreal Canadians. Carey’s mother is a past elected chief for the band.
In addition to the leadership of Chief and Council, it is the inspiration of people like Carey, who have shown the young men and women of the area it is possible to overcome barriers associated with past colonial policies, that may well account for the decreasing numbers on the Anahim Lake circuit court lists. This positive trend will likely result in the Court being able to hold family law case conferences in Anahim Lake during the court week.
It is a privilege to be part of bringing court to this proud and wonderful community.”