NWT Territorial Court Judge Jeannie Scott, a bilingual former Crown prosecutor, was sworn in to her new role on Friday.
Scott has 10 years of experience as a prosecutor in the NWT. She left in 2020 for a job with the GNWT justice department’s legal division, working on civil litigation, labour arbitration, and providing advice to departments.
She fills a seat on the court vacated by the July retirement of Judge Christine Gagnon.
Before speaking at Friday’s ceremony, NWT Supreme Court Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau — the territory’s senior jurist – leaned over and said something to Scott.
“If you’re wondering what I was whispering to her, because somebody might, it’s that there’s no turning back,” Charbonneau said to laughter.
“And despite … a very cool, calm, and collected composure,” she said, turning to Scott, “under your mask, you might be a little freaked out right about now. If I’m honest, if your experience is anything like mine was, you may still from time to time ask yourself, ‘Did this really happen?’ – and on some of the harder days even ask yourself, ‘What in the world was I thinking?'”
Scott’s appointment took effect on October 8. She since has been sitting alongside her new boss, Chief Judge Robert Gorin, learning about life on the bench.
Scott spent six months in the 1990s in South Africa as a research assistant in a provincial legislature during the first term of the post-apartheid government under Nelson Mandela.
Returning to Canada, she worked on the federal government’s National Homelessness Initiative in Ottawa, continuing part-time while attending law school at the University of Ottawa. She was called to the bar in Ontario in 2009.
“She then saw a job advertisement for a position at the Public Prosecution Service of Canada in Yellowknife,” said Gorin. “She jumped on the opportunity to gain experience in criminal litigation, and also to work in Canada’s North. She embraced life in the North.”
Within a couple of months of her arrival, she bought a house, adopted a dog, and met her future husband.
Scott’s former boss, chief prosecutor Alex Godfrey, said he was amazed at Scott’s high level of energy and what she packs into her life.
“When Judge Scott first moved here, she lived in a small house,” he said. “Then she met her future husband, Craig, and they decided that life at sea was their chosen path.
“Living in a houseboat is a common thing in Yellowknife. However, having a baby and living on a houseboat is another level of commitment to that adventurous world.”
Godfrey noted Scott and her family – which now includes three children – eventually moved back to land and are now involved with a seasonal business turning birch tree sap into syrup.
“I honestly cannot remember a time when she was not overwhelmingly positive in her outlook on life … that inherent belief that positive things are going to happen and that bad things are just small setbacks,” said Godfrey, noting she worked on files from the Domestic Violence Treatment Option Court and Wellness Court.
One of Scott’s legacies as a prosecutor is the impact she had in ensuring prosecutions were conducted with “a clear social consciousness in mind,” said Godfrey.
Scott represented the prosecution service during the Yellowknife stop of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
While Scott is also known as a dedicated environmentalist, Godfrey said, “what stands out the most about Jenny is her kindness and warmth.”
Scott said she “felt an overwhelming feeling of happiness” to be returning to the courts when she received a phone call from NWT justice minister RJ Simpson about her selection.
“In January, it will be 12 years since I moved to Yellowknife and fell in love with the North when I arrived — the people, the sense of community, the landscape and the legal work,” she said.
Her mother travelled from Ottawa for the ceremony. Her husband and children were watching remotely from Ontario.