Organizers of a workshop in Whitehorse that trained participants on writing Gladue reports, which help shape sentencing decisions for Indigenous offenders, are hoping it’s the first step in building a much-needed reserve of Gladue writers in the Yukon.
Facilitated by the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) and funded by the justice department, the three-day session, held at a Whitehorse hotel starting Nov. 28, saw approximately a dozen participants learning how to write Gladue reports as well as the history, law and responsibility surrounding them.
Gladue reports are named after a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision brought on by a Cree woman, Jamie Tanis Gladue, who had pleaded guilty to manslaughter and appealed her sentence. Her appeal forced the court to clarify a section of the Criminal Code that states court must consider all alternatives to jail when sentencing an offender, with “particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders.”
“Really, what the court said was, ‘There are too many Aboriginal people in jail,’” said workshop instructor Jonathan Rudin, the program director at Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto.
“They talked about the over-representation of Aboriginal people in Canada and called it a crisis in the Canadian criminal justice system and they said, ‘Judges need information about the Aboriginal person that they’re sentencing.’”
Gladue reports take into account an Indigenous offender’s personal history as well as historical and systemic issues — the impact of residential schools, for example — and suggest how those factors should be taken into account when it comes to sentencing. The reports may also suggest alternatives to incarceration and instead focus on themes like restorative justice.
“The courts are working in vacuums, and when the court works in a vacuum, Indigenous people who don’t present well generally to the court … because they have prior criminal records, they often don’t have jobs, they don’t look like the people who we should give breaks to and we don’t know anything about their lives, it’s easy to resort to jail for people in those circumstances,” Rudin explained.
“The idea of a Gladue report is that it stops that process and it makes that person a person. A Gladue report lets you hear from the individual. They’re quoted directly. You hear from people who know them. You get to see the person as not just someone who’s before the courts but is a full person,their strengths and their weaknesses. And that’s something you don’t get too much in court.”
However, even though more than 70 per cent of inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre are Indigenous, the Yukon does not have any dedicated Gladue writers. There are currently three people in the territory who do it on a volunteer basis and “write these reports sort of off the side of their desks while they were doing other things,” Rudin said.
Ontario, by contrast, has about 30 full-time, paid Gladue writers.
CYFN executive director Shadelle Chambers said there’s been a need for a Gladue program in the Yukon for years, but, until recently, there hasn’t been political support in place for establishing any sort of framework.
“Obviously, previous government had different views around justice and crime … so I think it’s important to realize that there are restorative justice principles in place here in the Yukon, and throughout the Criminal Code as well, that perhaps have not always been accessed,” said Chambers, who also participated in the workshop. “But with the willingness of dedicated political leadership, both on First Nations’ sides and territorial and even the federal (side).… We are seeing some movement towards this.”
The goal now, Chambers said, is to continue to hold training sessions and build up a “large, healthy roster” of Gladue writers in the Yukon to work for various First Nations governments and organizations.
Tracey White was among the participants of the Nov. 28 training session. An Anishinaabe woman originally from Northern Ontario and an intergenerational survivor of residential schools, White has lived in the Yukon for 14 years now and is the women’s legal advocate for the territory. She said she decided to do the training because, through her work, she’s seen the important impact Gladue reports can have.
“My interest was purely because (Gladue reports) need to be written and they’re not,” she told the News following the final day of training. “There’s not enough people available and I want to make myself available and help our people. Trauma is trauma across the country and we just need to step up as a people and make sure that the judges are using this.”
She added that she thought it was important for First Nations people to be Gladue writers.
“I think it’s important to be First Nations because you have a greater understanding of the impact of trauma and colonization,” White said. “You have to be empathetic — not sympathetic, but empathetic.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org