The Yukon may soon fund sentencing reports for Aboriginal offenders.
“We’ve had very positive recent discussions,” said David Christie, executive director of Yukon legal services, about talks with the Yukon’s justice department. “I’m really optimistic we’re going to get more reports done and more funding for reports.”
There’s nothing official yet — the justice department would only confirm they were working on a pilot project with the judiciary, the Crown’s office, legal aid and some First Nations.
Those sentencing reports, called Gladue reports, recognize the unique life circumstances Aboriginal offenders have had because of colonialism and residential schools.
In August 2015 an ad-hoc committee found the territory’s production of reports was unsustainable and called for more funding.
At the time, the justice department said it was working to improve Gladue report funding in the territory.
As it stands there are only two people who write Gladue reports in the territory, on a voluntary basis.
It’s a far cry from Ontario, which has over 20 full-time paid Gladue writers.
Jonathan Rudin is the program director for Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto, which has 14 full-time Gladue writers.
Funding for Gladue writers only took off in Ontario in 2012, Rudin said, when the Supreme Court reminded provinces and territories of the importance of Gladue reports.
“That stuff we said in Gladue we really meant,” Rudin said, paraphrasing the country’s top court.
For Rudin there’s no question Gladue reports are useful to the courts. He just received a judgement where an alternative to jail was found because of the information provided in the Gladue report.
“There’s no question the Yukon would benefit from full-time Gladue writers,” he said. “I think it’s very unfortunate it still hasn’t happened.”
Rudin is familiar with the territory’s situation because he’s trained the two writers.
Laura Hoversland is the justice manager at the Council of Yukon First Nations. On top of her job, she is one of the volunteer writers in the territory.
She’s completed five Gladue reports to date, and has seen how it has made offenders realize what their needs are.
“They’re able to see where some of these traumatic issues entered their lives and why they are the way they are,” she said. “Whether it’s an individual who attended residential school or not, their children witnessed alcohol, drugs and violence and normalized that behaviour.”
Those reports often allow to find alternatives to imprisoning offenders.
“We all know jail doesn’t do anything for anybody, and certainly doesn’t do anything for somebody who’s committing crimes because they’re traumatized,” she said.
First Nation people make up about a quarter of the Yukon population, and 70 per cent of the inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
Gladue reports are meant to address that overrepresentation in the justice system. Apart from cases where public safety warrants jailing offenders, the justice system needs to stop “blindly jailing” Indigenous people, Christie said.
Gladue reports make sure the judges have the information they need to craft appropriate sentences. That means the trauma offenders have experienced but also the plan to deal with that trauma and not reoffend.
The tentative plan is for the Yukon government to provide funding per individual report, said Mark Stevens, who works for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s justice department. The government is more committed now to funding the reports, he said, whereas before they only offered to assist in crafting policies that would allow other organizations to apply for funding.
In the past six years, the Yukon government hasn’t provided any money for Gladue reports, Stevens said.
“The sole source funders have been Yukon First Nations or organizations like the Council of Yukon First Nations,” he said.
Stevens wrote close to 70 reports in the past six years. He did that while he was employed by the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and Kwanlin Dun. If it wasn’t for his employers’ flexibility — they were effectively funding the reports — he wouldn’t have been able to do it, he said.
And when he worked for KDFN, the majority of the reports concerned non-KDFN citizens, he said.
A 1999 landmark Supreme Court decision requires judges to take Gladue factors into consideration.
Often, a way around that is for the lawyers to present some of that information to the court. But lawyers don’t spend the same amount time that Gladue writers do with the offenders, said George Filipovic, justice coordinator for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation.
“The information presented to the court routinely is less thorough than would be the case in places that do have Gladue report (writers),” he said.
That in turn translates into higher incarceration rates and stricter probation conditions, he said.
Filipovic questioned why the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation wasn’t invited to the discussions with the justice department
“Frequently when committees are struck, they tend to be struck only with people or organizations from Whitehorse,” he said. “It’s a little bit unacceptable considering we’re the second biggest First Nation in the Yukon.”
Contact Pierre Chauvin at firstname.lastname@example.org