Bringing justice to isolated communities in the North can result in some “harrowing experiences” on the small aircraft used to transport lawyers and judges in all types of weather.
But NWT Territorial Court Judge Garth Malakoe said he was pleased to have finished his lengthy career on one of those circuits, this one to Ulukhaktok, an Inuvialuit community of just over 400 people some 930 kilometres north of Yellowknife.
“Yesterday, I was in Ulukhaktok, one of my favourite places,” said Malakoe, at a ‘special sitting’ of Territorial Court on Friday afternoon in Yellowknife, before a gallery packed with members of the legal profession.
“And it was a fitting last circuit; we got a lot accomplished. We stayed overnight in the community and, as I was flying back on the Beech 1900 for two hours without a bathroom, I thought a bit of this job and about all the people I work with.”
There were 21 people on the one-day Ulukhaktok Territorial Court docket on June 22, with offences ranging from aggravated and sexual assaults to burglaries, forcible confinement, uttering threats and child abandonment.
During his remarks after being honoured by representatives of the NWT defence bar and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Malakoe said he will miss the interaction with lawyers he had as a judge for the past dozen years, as well as the success stories of those convicted of crimes who managed to turn their lives around.
“I will miss when someone who has been in my court in the past stops me – as they did this week in Yellowknife – and, with a sense of pride, say they’ve been sober.”
Malakoe said he “always demanded that everyone in my courtroom show respect for everyone else” and he tried to lead by example.
“The hundreds of circuits that I’ve been on have been a chance to see another side of the people I work with, including you the lawyers … I also get to interact with you on a social basis. Whether it be a meal shared together, or dogsledding, or golfing in Ulukhaktok, being weathered in somewhere, or sharing a harrowing experience on a small plane – these are memories I cherish.”
Malakoe made sure he had a photo with each group of lawyers and justice officials prior to boarding a plane home from circuit court stops in communities across the NWT.
“We wish you the best in this next chapter in your life. We’re sad to see you go,” said senior Crown prosecutor Blair McPherson. “We understand you’ll be publishing a photo book of your circuit work around the Northwest Territories, so we expect to see that photo book displayed prominently in the front window of the Book Cellar.”
McPherson praised Malakoe for being “a fine jurist but, above all, a gentleman” who showed compassion while interpreting and applying the laws of Canada.
“You exemplify the finest qualities of a judge,” said the prosecutor. “Your decisions are clear, well-reasoned and fair. But what puts you in a lead category is on the human side of things.
“We know, through experience, that you care about people. You care about the accused people and about the victims. You’re genuinely interested in the people of the Northwest Territories and about learning about the different cultures out there beyond Yellowknife.
“And you are patient with counsel.”
Veteran defence lawyer Peter Harte said: “The fact that there are all these people here is a testament to the fact that all of us thought you did a pretty damn good job.
“The work that takes place in territorial court is a grind … but I would be shocked to hear anyone say that they did not always have your honour’s full attention. No one could say that a decision was not carefully made. No one would say that important details, or really any details, were overlooked. No one could say that the sentences were not fair.
“I would describe your work as compassionate inside the frameworks that jurists must observe. Your jurisprudence has been consistent in principle, while recognizing the real world that creates the need for it.”
After posing for a group photo outside the courtroom, arranged by Harte, Malakoe told Cabin Radio he plans to return as a part-time judge in the fall. Asked his age, he said: “Late sixties.” Four decades of his life have been spent in the North.
With Malakoe’s retirement and another judge on indefinite medical leave, the Territorial Court will have to rely on an increasing number of retired judges to fill in.
Those deputy judges include some from the NWT with others from provinces such as BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The last new Territorial Court Judge to be sworn in was Jeannie Scott in November 2021. The only other remaining full-time jurist is Chief Judge Robert Gorin.