The PLEA: Canada's Legal System: An Introduction

The PLEA: Canada's Legal System: An Introduction

Canada’s Courts

There are different levels and types of courts in Canada. Each court decides different types of cases. Decisions from lower courts can be appealed to higher courts.

Provincial Court

Provincial Court deals with small claims, traffic matters, youth court and first appearances on all criminal matters. Family matters may go to Provincial Court or to the Family Law Division of the Court of Queen’s Bench.

Court of Queen’s Bench

This court can hear both civil and criminal trials. It is also an appeal court for some criminal cases originally tried in Provincial Court and small claims cases. With some exceptions, family matters generally go to the Family Law Division of the Court of Queen’s Bench.

Saskatchewan Court of Appeal

This court hears appeals from the Court of Queen’s Bench. It is also the appeal court for some of the criminal trials which take place in Provincial Court. The reasons for an appeal from a lower court decision are limited to the judge making an error about the law. It is not enough that one or both parties disagree with the outcome of a case. An appeal judge can only overrule a lower court if an error was made in the application of the law.

Federal Courts

The federal court system is separate from the provincial court system. The Federal Court can only deal with some cases that involve the rights of all Canadians, like citizenship, income tax, and cases that involve an organization controlled by the government of Canada, like the RCMP. There is also a Federal Court of Appeal.

Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court is the highest court in Canada. It hears appeals from all other courts in Canada. The decisions are final. All other courts must follow the Supreme Court’s decisions. The Supreme Court can overrule a previous decision it made.

Consider: Cree Court

Saskatchewan has a special Provincial Court called the Cree Court. It is the first court of its kind in Canada. It travels to northern parts of the province. Court officials such as the judge, clerks and court workers speak Cree. Individuals may have access to Cree-speaking Legal Aid lawyers.

Cree Court enables the Court and the accused to communicate in a manner suited to his or her language and cultural needs.

Cree court may incorporate traditional Aboriginal values into sentencing, such as the concept of restorative justice which is meant to heal victims and communities, while encouraging offenders to confront the consequences of their actions. Because Cree Court recognizes culture and community’s role in supporting both the victim and the accused, it can help encourage the participation of community leaders in the justice system.

  1. How does Cree Court’s incorporation of traditional Aboriginal values help build a justice system more responsive to the needs of particular communities?
  2. People of Cree descent lived in much of Saskatchewan long before Europeans arrived. How does having a Cree Court acknowledge the special role of First Nations’ culture and language in Canadian society?
  3. What other services—such as translators and interpreters—do courts offer to ensure justice is fair?

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