Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston, left, and Yukon Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee announce the hand-over of a Gladue writer pilot project at a press conference in Whitehorse on Aug. 29. CYFN is now administering the project, which was previous led by Legal Aid. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News)

Council of Yukon First Nations takes over Gladue writer pilot project

The project, originally administered by Legal Aid, aims to bolster roster of Yukon Gladue writers

The Council of Yukon First Nations has taken over a pilot project aiming to increase the number of Gladue report writers in the territory.

CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston and Yukon Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee made the announcement at a press conference Aug. 29 at CYFN’s office in Whitehorse.

The hand-over officially took place on Aug. 1.

Gladue reports explore the personal circumstances of Indigenous offenders, taking into account the impacts of things like residential schools, addiction, mental illness and sexual abuse on the offender’s life and criminal actions. Courts are required to consider Gladue factors when making sentencing decisions for Indigenous offenders.

“This is just another step in the right direction,” Johnston said about the pilot’s hand-over. “… We want to ensure that when we talk about a justice system that’s a well-balanced system that looks after everyone and it’s not just about right or wrong.

“It’s about building … a balance and to ensure there’s fairness also.”

The three-year Gladue writer pilot project was originally launched in February 2018 with $530,000 in funding from the Yukon government. On top of training more Gladue writers in the territory, with a goal of having at least 10 on roster, the project is also aiming to improve the consistency of reports, which had previously been done on an ad-hoc basis.

The pilot was originally administered by the Yukon Legal Services Society, also referred to as Legal Aid, but McPhee told media that handing the reins over to CYFN “has always been the plan.”

“At the heart of this matter is the offenders who will see the information, the best possible information, set before a court, and the judge will be able to consider that prior to sentencing or bail orders and will be able to count on these pre-sentence reports to accurately reflect the realities of intergenerational trauma stemming from colonialism,” she said.

The territory currently has three qualified Gladue writers and four people under mentorship, with a few of the trainees expected to join the writer roster next month.

CYFN has already hosted two training sessions — the first in November 2017, followed by one a year later — and is planning on hosting another one this year.

CYFN executive director Shadelle Chambers acknowledged that there had been some “challenges and barriers” around recruitment and retaining trainees.

“We had a lot of people demonstrate interest and participate in the training,” she said. “However, once some of them understood what Gladue is really about and also participated in the mentorship … some folks were not able to participate and finish.”

Among the challenges are people misunderstanding what Gladue is actually about, Chambers said, as well as the tight labour market in the Yukon overall and finding recruits who are Yukon First Nations citizens with “a certain writing standard and who have a knowledge of the community.”

Still, there’s been a “concerted effort” to increase the number of Yukon First Nations Gladue writers on the roster, Chambers said, and CYFN staff have been travelling to communities to promote awareness about what Gladue really is.

“We want to ensure that the report writers are aware and are culturally appropriate in terms of being able to hear the stories of Yukon First Nations offenders. We want to ensure that this is not a re-traumatization in terms of telling your story,” she explained.

“… Ideally, we would like to have a writer from each First Nations community here in the Yukon to be reflective of the community and to ensure that if offenders are requesting a specific writer from that community, that that would be available.”

According to a joint CYFN-Yukon government press release, four Gladue reports have been written in the Yukon so far this fiscal year. Sixteen were written in 2018-19, and 23 in 2017-18. The project can support the preparation of up to 35 reports annually.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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