Court of Appeal of Alberta: Justice Sheila Greckol's Childhood Memories Still Resonate

Human rights concern Court of Appeal of Alberta judge

Sarah Pratt - 28 May 2019

Growing up in the small town of Vilna, Alta., Sheila Greckol, '75 LLB, saw young people trapped by circumstance.

Greckol's mother, Lura, was a Grade 1 teacher who would sometimes bring home students who lacked warm winter clothing or food. As a result, Greckol became aware that some of her classmates had no freedom of choice when it came to what they ate, where they lived and how they lived. Many of these children were from First Nations, including the nearby Saddle Cree Nation and Good Fish First Nation.

Greckol carries these early childhood memories with her today in her work in the justice system where she is now a justice of the Court of Appeal.

"Some of the things I witnessed, including violent incidents involving local police and Indigenous People, as well as poverty, racism and the accompanying social problems, are still with me, even though it's been 50 years since I left home to go to university," says Greckol.

She spent 25 years as a leading labour and human rights lawyer, known for defying the status quo in a quest for social change. In addition to working on cases involving abortion and freedom of choice, and paid maternity leave, she was co-counsel for Delvin Vriend, a teacher fired from his job because he was gay. The 1998 decision, the first successful gay-rights case in the Supreme Court of Canada, has served as the basis for LGBTQ2+ human rights advances around the world.

In her current role, to which she was appointed in 2016 after presiding as a justice of the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta since 2011, Greckol is still witness to the disadvantages in the lives of Indigenous Peoples.

"We see the consequences of colonialism - aptly called cultural genocide - every day in the courts," she says. "The tragic narratives, the vast over-representation of Indigenous offenders in the criminal justice system."

One of the many issues Greckol feels must be advocated for is Indigenizing the courts. This means locating the courts within or near First Nations communities, having community members working there, using traditional cultural approaches to guide people toward a healing path, and fashioning creative rehabilitative sentences where possible.

Greckol believes non-Indigenous people in Canadian society have a responsibility to do what they can to work toward reconciliation with First Nations Peoples.

"I believe it rises to the level of a moral imperative," she says.

From Autumn 2018 issue of New Trail Magazine.