This play discusses the complex relationship between ant-pipeline activism and the justice system, and lets the audience judge for themselves

Yasmine Elsayed (she/her) // Contributor
Andy Poystila (he/him) // Illustrator

The Judge’s Daughter is a semi-fictional play featured in the Vancouver Fringe Festival this year. The play was inspired by Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick, who has a history of specifically convicting Indigenous protestors. In the play, the character of Kelly Saint Patrick assumes Justice Fitzpatrick’s position.

The play follows a family of three: the husband and lawyer, James Brown, Judge Kelly Saint Patrick, and their daughter, Erin Brown.

Erin avoids the topic of her mom’s career until she falls in love with Amir, a climate change and anti-pipeline activist. This strains Kelly and Erin’s relationship, which is tested further when a climate activist dies. Whether or not Judge Saint Patrick’s incarceration of the activist created the conditions for her death is the debate that consumes the rest of the production. In The Judge’s Daughter the audience has a chance to judge for themselves. 

Playwright Mairy Beam (they/them) takes a shot at Canada’s justice system in The Judge’s Daughter. After being arrested in 2018 for violating a B.C. Supreme Court injunction that blocks protesters from pipeline construction projects, Justice Ken Affleck placed Beam under house arrest for 28 days. Beam later discovered that their judge was relatively lax in their sentencing compared to others, such as Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick. 

Elder Jim Leyden was part of what inspired Beam to write the play. In 2021, he was sentenced to 45 days in jail for peacefully protesting near the TMX Burnaby Terminal. His presiding judge was Shelley Fitzpatrick. Leyden tried to appeal the conviction, only for the Crown to deny his appeal. 

Squamish Elder Harriet Nahanee also inspired Beam when they were writing the play. Elder Nahanee was an Indigenous rights and environmental activist. In January 2007, she was charged with criminal contempt and sentenced to two weeks in jail for participating in the highway expansion protests in the Eagleridge Bluffs of West Vancouver. Elder Nahanee was said to be sick with the flu and had asthma before her incarceration. A week after her release, Ms. Nahanee was diagnosed with pneumonia, and doctors discovered that she had lung cancer. Unfortunately, Elder Nahanee passed away in February 2007. In March of 2007, a public call for inquiry into the death of Ms. Nahanee to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia was placed as a response. In response, the Hon. John Les stated, “We sincerely regret the passing of Ms. Nahanee. It’s true that she was incarcerated for a short period of time. However, there is no evidence that she contracted any disease of any kind while incarcerated.”

In the play, the fictional Elder Rose is a composite character, combining the stories of Elder Nahanee and Elder Leyden. Instead of receiving a 45-day sentence like Leyden, she receives a two-month sentence for holding a drum circle near the pipeline. Kelly Saint Patrick, who volunteers to take on the TMX case, states that Elder Rose’s punishment is justified because she violated the injunction. During Elder Rose’s appearance in court, Kelly is made aware of her frail health. Elder Rose requires many medications and special treatment, and despite this, Kelly is staunch in her sentencing of the Elder. Elder Rose then dies in jail due to neglect. After hearing the news, Erin and her partner, Amir, accuse Kelly of murdering Rose, which she denies, claiming she was only following the Crown’s recommendation when dealing with “cases like these.” Throughout the play, Kelly stands her ground and keeps repeating that she did not kill elder Rose.

The Judge’s Daughter is a composite story, combining two different cases into one, but the events are closely related to Elder Harriet Nahanee’s legal case. Overall, the play was a well-executed production. Beam is transparent that the play is based on real life events, and the audience gets a good deal of information about the case and the semi-fictional Kelly Saint Patrick’s views on Indigenous advocacy. However, the 50-minute play only scratches the surface in providing information about the many unfairly treated and convicted Indigenous peoples in the Canadian justice system. 

For more on the history of land dispossession in Canada see the 2019 Land Back report by the Yellowhead Institute. 

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