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Native Languages to be Allowed in Jury Trials in the N.W.T

Native peoples who speak only their aboriginal language are now allowed to serve on juries in the Northwest Territories. The recent amendment to the Northwest Territories Jury Act has placed the territorial government in the forefront of aboriginal rights in North America.

This change is believed to make the N.W.T. the only place in North America where unilingual natives can serve on a jury. N.W.T. Justice Minister Mike Ballantyne said this initiative was one of many planned for the N.W.T. in order to establish Canada's first native justice system.

The aim of his department is to create a justice system more sympathetic to the culture, language and lifestyles of Canada's northern natives. He felt this decision was especially significant given on-going native justice inquiries in Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

The changes, which took place September 1, allow unilingual natives to serve as jury members through the assistance of trained interpreters who translate testimony given to the jurors. This represents a significant departure from past practice when all jurors had to speak either English or French.

According to Territorial Justice Department spokesperson Betty Harnum, Canada is already surpassing translation efforts in United States courts by providing services in Both French and English. The provision of translations in native languages is viewed as "amazing" by the Americans, especially given that many legal terms and concepts don't even exist in native languages, she said.

To implement this useful program eight people have completed a two-month training course in court-room and jury interpreting. Four graduates of this course speak the native language of Inuktitut, two South Slavey Dene, one Dogrib and one Chipewyan. The amount of time needed for testimony is usually doubled.