NWT Supreme Court gets first Indigenous Chief Justice


Northwest Territories Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood has been named Chief Justice of the Court. She replaces former Chief Justice Louise A. Charbonneau who retired on July 11.

Smallwood’s appointment took effect Thursday.

Smallwood was the first Dene (K’ashógot’įne) person to be appointed to the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories when she was appointed in 2011, and is now the first Indigenous person to serve as a judge in head of the court.

Smallwood is originally from Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories, and studied law at the University of Calgary before returning north to practice law. She was called to the NWT Bar in 2000.

“Chief Justice Smallwood brings more than two decades of legal experience … to her new role,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement Friday. “I know she will continue to serve northerners with dedication and I wish her well.”

Chief justices in Canada run their courts and sit on the Canadian Judicial Council. The Governor General appoints them on the advice of Cabinet and on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

Prior to being appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories, Smallwood was Senior Counsel and Team Leader with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada in Yellowknife.

As a Supreme Court justice, Smallwood recently presided over several high-profile cases, including the separate murder trials of Levi Cayen and Chad Tyler Beck.


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