Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta Justice Vaughan Hartigan was a Crown prosecutor for the majority of his career as a lawyer and he is most proud of the work he did in seeking alternatives to traditional criminal sanctions for members of First Nations.
“The historic damage done by colonialism, residential schools and the destruction of First Nation culture and identity has led to a crisis in our nation which cannot simply be alleviated by the continuous incarceration of First Nations offenders,” says Justice Hartigan, who was appointed to the Bench on March 8, 2019.
“First Nations, in particular, have historically borne a disproportionate effect on their members and communities in the criminal justice process,” says Justice Hartigan. “The grossly disproportionate representation of First Nations individuals in correctional institutions is the most obvious result of this impact.”
The Lethbridge-born jurist — who spent all but four years of his roughly 24 years with Alberta Justice running prosecutions in the Lethbridge area, ending up as the Chief Crown Prosecutor — always supported restorative justice initiatives in relation to First Nation offenders, particularly those developed within those communities themselves.
“I had a long working relationship with the Blood Tribe/Kainai First Nation Kainai Peacemaker Program, which seeks to divert offenders from the criminal justice system to a more traditional process of reintegration and healing of within their own communities,” says Justice Hartigan, adding he also worked with the developers of the Piikani Peacemaker Program.
“Many offenders, particular young First Nations men, successfully completed these programs and were restored to their communities without the stigma of incarceration and criminal conviction and records,” he says.
In 2013 he received the Native Counselling Services of Alberta Award in Recognition of Outstanding Contributions to the Aboriginal Community and was presented and draped in a Star Blanket interwoven with sweetgrass which had been made by prisoners of the Stan Daniels Correctional Center in Edmonton, a Federal institution for First Nations offenders that offers healing treatment using traditional First Nations cultural practices.
“I am proud to say that I was the first prosecutor to receive this honour,” he says.
Justice Hartigan attended the University of Lethbridge between 1986 and 1990, graduating with a BA with Great Distinction in Philosophy. He then attended the University of Alberta and earned his LL.B. in 1993. In 1991 he won the U of A Law School’s Constitutional Law Award.
He became a member of the Law Society of Alberta on Sept. 9, 1994, after completing his articles at the Jervis Oishi Law Office in Lethbridge, where he began working as an associate, with a focus on criminal law, between 1994 and 1995.
In 1995 he joined Regional Prosecutions - Lethbridge and worked there until 2005, when he became Chief Crown Prosecutor of Regulatory Prosecutions in Edmonton. In 2009 he returned to Regional Prosecutions - Lethbridge as senior counsel and a rotational Assistant Chief Crown Prosecutor, in 2013 he was named Assistant Chief Crown Prosecutor, in 2016 he became acting Chief Crown Prosecutor and in 2017 he was named Chief Crown Prosecutor.
Given his employment with Alberta Justice, Justice Hartigan was unable to provide pro bono legal services during his prosecutorial career, however he did a considerable amount of pro bono notarial work, particularly for members of the Lethbridge Filipino community, assisting in preparation of documents for applications for Landed Immigrant/Permanent Residents status.
He also developed and taught various law-related courses at Athabasca University and Lethbridge Community College between 1997 and 2005. He was also an instructor with Alberta Crown Prosecution Service Education and Knowledge Management in 2016 and 2017.
Away from the legal field, the married father of two was involved in the Lethbridge community as a director of the University of Lethbridge Alumni Association, the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and the Fort Whoop-Up Historical Association.
As a prosecutor, Justice Hartigan gained a broad insight into the variety and diversity of Canadians and their unique perspectives. His participation in the justice system allowed him an opportunity to know and hopefully understand both First Nations and immigrant communities in his region.
He also understands the importance of trying to better comprehend the challenges that new languages, cultures and processes pose for new Canadians. As well, he is cognizant that diversity also extends to issues surrounding sexual and gender diversity and feels it is essential to have proper training in place to ensure that those individuals are made both comfortable and welcome in Court proceedings and, like all in Canadian society, are able to access justice.
Through the course of his professional and personal life he has known many people who have suffered through significant hardship.
“I have seen the impact of many of our society’s ills on a great number of people, from the effects of colonialism on First Nations, to poverty, alienation and disenfranchisement on other individuals and groups,” he says, adding he also understands how those injustices have marginalized people.
As a result, he believes he has the ability to understand the perspectives of many of those that come before him.