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By BILL MARANTZ A few days ago I was throwing out some old Judges’ Notebooks and came across an entry that, unfortunately, seems just as relevant today as when it was written, 37 years ago:



Jan 25/77
Yesterday I sat at Fort Alexander, an Indian Reservation about 75 miles from Winnipeg, just down the road from Powerview. When I drove past a sign that said: “Fort Alexander. Reserve of the SAULTEUX TRIBE OF THE MIGHTY ALGONQUIN NATION”.
 I stopped and asked a couple of kids for directions to the Old Folks Home. “Over there,” they said, pointing down a side road.
“Do you know if court is sitting there today?”
“Oh, you mean the senior citizen place.” They gave me different directions. “Look for the Canadian Flag.”
I drove for another ten minutes but didn’t see a building with a flag. It was 10:40 and court was supposed to start at 10:00.  “Christ, I’ve missed it,” I thought, and pulled into a garage. The attendant said I should go back along the road I had just come off, but didn’t say anything about a flag.
“Do you know if court is sitting there today?” I asked.
He didn’t. But he let me use his phone and looked up the number of the RCMP for me.
“This is Judge Marantz,” I told the corporal. “Is court sitting at Powerview or Fort Alexander?”
He said it was “Fort Alex” and gave me directions.

The Senior Citizens Recreation Center was a one-storey white building that looked new and had three doors. It also had a flagpole, but no flag. I tried the center door. Locked. I tried the one on the right side of the building. Locked. I went to the door on the left side of the building and looked through the glass panel. I saw a bunch of Indians sitting around on folding chairs. I tried the door. It was unlocked.
Court was being held in a larger room, just off the waiting room. There was a Mountie, sitting at the front table, beside the Crown Attorney, a court reporter, and an older lawyer (Joe Bellan) sitting beside an Indian kid. There were a handful of people in the spectator’s section, a couple of whom were mounties. “Sorry I’m late,” I said, sticking my head through the door. “I had trouble finding the place.”
The Crown Attorney laughed. “I can understand that.”

No one seemed put out that court was starting 45 minutes late. They were in no hurry. The Crown showed me where to gown. I went into the kitchen and closed the door, as best I could (there was no door knob). I put my garment bag down on the kitchen counter (beside a box full of doorknobs) and took out my gown. As soon as I had it on, I had the urge to pee.  “Do you know where the washroom is?” I asked the Crown.
It was just off the waiting room. I walked past the people I would soon be asked to judge, feeling foolish. I flipped the bathroom light switch. The lights didn’t go on. I closed the door, as best I could (it didn’t have a knob) unzipped my fly and did my business in the dark. The waiting room was totally silent so it sounded like the roar of the ocean. I groped around for the toilet handle and pushed down. Nothing happened. I tried again. Same result. I put the seat down, and headed back into the courtroom, looking neither to the right or the left.

First, a juvenile matter. One of the witnesses hadn’t shown up. The Crown didn’t request a bench warrant; just an adjournment. “So we can go and get him, your honor.”  
Adjourned until 2:00. Next case.
“Can I have a short recess, your honor?” the Crown said. The lawyer for the juvenile had just arrived, and the Crown wanted to talk to him.
“Five minutes,” I said.
I went back into the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee from my thermos. Then decided to limber up. On the third deep-knee bend I heard a sickening sound. I reached behind me. I’d split my pants, all the way to the crotch. Thank God, I was wearing a gown!
We broke at 11:00, to reconvene at 1:00 and deal with the adjourned case. “It should only take 15 or 20 minutes,” the Crown assured me.  

When I came back into the kitchen a young Mountie was there. “Do you know where I can get a needle and thread?” I asked him.
He looked at me, quizzically.
I explained about my pants.
No problem. “Oh, my wife can sew that up for you.”
I followed him home in my car. “The RCMP has bought this house,” he said, as we entered. “But they haven’t had a chance to fix it up yet.” The house was a mess. So was his wife. A slightly pudgy blond in a ratty T shirt and a pair of slacks that looked too tight. I felt bad about busting in on her, but explained that it was an emergency. “When you get the pants, you’ll see what I mean.”

As I sat in the bathroom, in my long underwear, and heard the sound of a sewing machine, my spirits perked up. Then I felt something wet. The toilet seat. Good seamstress, lousy housekeeper.  When I emerged from the bathroom, five minutes later, in my repaired pants, there was a little blond princess at the door, taking off a snowsuit. “Hi,” she said, as if she saw a strange man walk out of the bathroom every day, when she came home for lunch.
“Hi,” I said. “How was school?”
“Okay,” she said.
“Learn anything new today?”
She gave it some thought. “Um hum,” she said, nodding. “You wanna see the card I made for my mother’s birthday?” She went into the living room and pointed to a shelf. “See! Her birthday’s tomorrow.”
“Oh, she’s an Aquarius.”
“I dunno,” the little princess said, with a shrug.
“Smart man,” the wife said, from the kitchen. She was at the sink straining spaghetti (or maybe macaroni).
“When is your birthday?” I asked her daughter.
“December 27th,” she said, as her little sister toddled into the living room. I asked if her sister would be going to school soon. She shook her head. “She’s only two. You have to be five.”
“Are you going to stay for lunch?” the wife called from the kitchen.
“No, but thanks anyway,” I said. “I’ve got a couple of places to go.”
“How about you, hon.?”
I suddenly realized she probably hadn’t been talking to me.  
“Yeah, I’m staying,” he said.
“Well, thanks again for the repair work,” I called, and headed for the door. “I don’t have to tell you, you saved my life.”
 When I got back to the Senior Citizens Center the door was locked. So I went to kill some time at the Manitou Hotel. A couple of Indian kids were sitting in the lobby. It had a 1920s look. A guy came in who looked familiar. He’d not only been in court this morning I had seen him around the courthouse in Winnipeg. I assumed he was a plain-clothes Mountie.
He wasn’t. He was a process server.  “It’s an awful job trying to serve people up here,” he said. “Nobody will give you any information.”

This time the door was unlocked. True to his word, the Crown wound up the court proceedings in less than an hour. The last case was a 17-year old kid, charged with public mischief and dangerous use of a firearm. He had torn up the wiring on some guy’s truck and had shot off a gun. Needless to say, he was drunk on both occasions. But he seldom drank. And this was the first time he’d gotten into trouble. In the summer he’d had a job cutting brush, but now there was no work. (Except what the devil finds for idle hands.) He lived with his family, about 90 miles from Powerview, where there was nothing to do but drink and sniff glue. “I’ve spoken to the probation officer,” The Crown said. “He says he can assign him community service in lieu of a fine. He can’t pay a fine, your honor. There’s no work.”
I gave him six months supervised probation. And ten hours community service. According to the probation officer, that meant shovelling the skating rink, and things like that. The kid’s lawyer had made a point of saying, during her submission, that he hadn’t shot the gun at anybody. That, in fact, he had said something about shooting himself. I could see that he was just a nice quiet kid who might end up blowing his brains out. Because he has nothing better to do.
As I headed back to the city I passed the sign again:   “HOME OF THE SAULTEUX TRIBE OF THE MIGHTY ALGONQUIN NATION”.
Has a nice nostalgic ring.