By Monica Lamb-Yorski
It was standing room only in the court room Monday, March 13, as colleagues, family and friends officially welcomed Williams Lake Provincial Court judge Karen L. Whonnock.
As a member of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, judge Whonnock grew up on a farm in Evelyn near Smithers.
With a disproportionate number of Aboriginal people in the court system and the hope in the Cariboo Chilcotin to create a First Nations court, her appointment comes with great expectations.
“As the second female judge of the provincial court with Aboriginal ancestry and the first from British Columbia, your appointment will greatly assist in addressing the volume of cases before our courts,” said Tina Dion as she brought greetings on behalf of the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch.
“We also know that you will bring to the bench compassion, dedication and fairness to those who appear before you.”
Regional administrative judge Michael Brecknell welcomed Judge Whonnock on behalf of the 17 provincial court judges serving the northern region.
“Our region serves 30 communities in a vast area,” Brecknell said.
Linda Thomas, representing the Law Society of B.C., praised the judge for her dedication to Aboriginal people and the law.
“She has worked as a treaty negotiator, a skilled practitioner in family law and child protection judge,” Thomas said.
When Judge Whonnock’s husband Jonathan Whonnock’s nephew from Alert Bay, B.C. drummed and sang a traditional prayer song, the judge listened and tears welled up in her eyes.
When it was her turn to speak, she responded graciously, thanking her husband for his support and willingness to move for her work at the drop of a hat.
She thanked her late father, Murray Abbott, who passed away 16 months ago, and her mother Elsa Abbott who attended the celebration.
“My parents instilled in me a sense of responsibility from an early age,” she said.
“I grew up on a farm without running water and when you live on a farm everyone has a job. My work ethic comes from them and I am grateful for their love and support.”
The welcome ceremony, Judge Whonnock said, was pretty fancy for a farm girl from Evelyn.
“I will try to live up to the trust placed in me as I put on the my new robes everyday,” she added.