Ceremony held for new judge

Judge Whonnock and Chief Judge Crabtree

by Monica Lamb-Yorski - Williams Lake Tribune
posted Mar 14, 2017

It was standing room only in the court room Monday, March 13, as colleagues, family and friends officially welcomed Williams Lake Provincial Court Judge Karen L. Whonnock.

As a member of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Judge Whonnock grew up on a farm in Evelyn near Smithers, B.C.

With a disproportionate number of Aboriginal people in the court system and the hope in the Cariboo Chilcotin to create a First Nations court, her appointment comes with great expectations.

“As the second female judge of the provincial court with Aboriginal ancestry and the first from British Columbia, your appointment will greatly assist in addressing the volume of cases before our courts,” said Tina Dion as she brought greetings on behalf of the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch. “We also know that you will bring to the bench compassion, dedication and fairness to those who appear before you.”

Tsilhqot’in National Government Chair and Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse said he welcomed a First Nation’s perspective to the courts with Whonnock’s appointment.

“I look forward to your tenure here in Williams Lake,” he said.

Welcoming ceremonies are a way to welcome judges to the bench and to the community, said Chief Judge Tom Crabtree.

“Every one of us here is reminded what a privilege it is to be appointed a provincial court judge and given the responsibility in the matters that impact in a very real way the lives of those persons who appear before us,” Crabtree said.

Crabtree said people come to the provincial court seeking resolution to their matters.

“They come in anticipation of being treated with respect, they come anticipating being heard and having their case resolved in an impartial, fair and sensitive manner,” he said.

Describing Whonnock as an accomplished and principled lawyer, Crabtree said the court is honoured that she has accepted the position.

Regional Administrative Judge Michael Brecknell welcomed Judge Whonnock on behalf of the 17 provincial court judges serving the northern region.
“Our region serves 30 communities in a vast area,” Brecknell said.

Crown Counsel Angela Murray, on behalf of the Attorney General of Canada, congratulated Judge Whonnock for a “well deserved” appointment.

Murray said from the federal prosecution’s perspective, Whonnock has come to the bench in probably the worst illicit drug-related death epidemic that has ever been seen in B.C.

“Given your experience working with the legal services society and as a family mediator, there’s no doubt that you will bring the wisdom, compassion and intelligence needed to address this,” Murray said.

Administrative Crown Counsel Sabena Thompson, brought greetings on behalf of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, saying she was pleased to welcome her.

“Judge Whonnock has also taught at Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Washington and served as an associate judge on the Colville Tribal Court and has published on Indigenous women, matrimonial property and Aboriginal courts,” Thompson said.

Linda Thomas, representing the Law Society of B.C., praised the judge for her dedication to Aboriginal people and the law.

“She has worked as a treaty negotiator, a skilled practitioner in family law and child protection judge,” Thomas said.

Williams Lake defence lawyer Bill Herdy said so far he has been impressed with the new judge’s level of empathy and level of proficiency.

“I am very pleased and I believe my colleagues are very pleased that you have been appointed to practice your skills in this area,” Herdy said.

When Judge Whonnock’s husband Jonathan Whonnock’s nephew from Alert Bay, B.C. drummed and sang a traditional prayer song, the judge listened and tears welled up in her eyes.

When it was her turn to speak, she responded graciously, thanking her husband for his support and willingness to move for her work at the drop of a hat.

She thanked her late father, Murray Abbott, who passed away 16 months ago, and her mother Elsa Abbott who attended the celebration.

“My parents instilled in me a sense of responsibility from an early age,” she said.

“I grew up on a farm without running water and when you live on a farm everyone has a job. My work ethic comes from them and I am grateful for their love and support.”

The welcome ceremony, Judge Whonnock said, was pretty fancy for a farm girl from Evelyn.

“I will try to live up to the trust placed in me as I put on my new robes everyday,” she added.