Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, from right, Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) Grand Chief Peter Johnston and justice department spokesperson Dan Cable made the announcement at CYFN headquarters in Whitehorse Feb. 20. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News)

Yukon government puts $530k towards Gladue report pilot project

Three-year pilot project will train people to write Gladue reports for Indigenous offenders

The Yukon government will spend $530,000 over three years to fund a pilot project training people to write Gladue reports, important documents that help shape sentencing decisions for Indigenous offenders in the justice system.

Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) Grand Chief Peter Johnston and the Yukon Legal Services Society’s executive director David Christie made the announcement at CYFN headquarters in Whitehorse Feb. 20.

“Despite the fact that these reports are mandatory under the law and that many other jurisdictions have report-writing programs, we in the Yukon here have never had a dedicated, ongoing Gladue program,” McPhee told media.

“This will benefit Yukon’s justice system both in terms of reducing delays in sentencing of offenders and having a consistent process that will allow the courts to consider the realities of intergenerational trauma stemming from colonialism in respect to Indigenous offenders.”

The project is a collaboration between the Yukon government, CYFN, the Yukon Legal Service Society (also known as Legal Aid) and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

Gladue reports are named after a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the case of Cree woman Jamie Tanis Gladue, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and then appealed her sentence. Her appeal forced the court to clarify a section of the Criminal Code that states courts must consider all alternatives to jail when sentencing an offender, with “particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders.”

Through interviews with Indigenous offenders as well as their friends, family and support workers, Gladue reports offer detailed looks into offenders’ histories and how they may have contributed to their actions. Common factors include the impact of residential schools, the deaths of family members and abuse. Gladue reports also often suggest alternatives to jail such as rehabilitative and culturally-relevant treatment, although the offender’s sentence still ultimately lies in the judge’s hands.

While jurisdictions such as Ontario have about 30 paid, full-time Gladue writers, the Yukon currently has three volunteer writers who do the reports in an arrangement commonly described as “off the sides of their desks.”

The pilot project hopes to change that by training people to write Gladue reports and then paying them for the reports they produce. The goal is to build a “roster” of Gladue writers to tackle the estimated 25 to 35 Gladue reports needed in the Yukon every year. There will also be evaluations done throughout the project’s three-year run to gauge its success.

Legal Aid’s Christie said the service was “proud” to be partnering with CYFN on the project.

“Legal Aid sees this as an important part of restorative justice, which focuses on rehabilitation of offenders and reconciliation with victims, but also healing the harm caused by crime in the community. In my mind, Gladue reports are important means to get to that end,” he told media. He also added that there was “talk” of possibly compensating writers for past reports.

In an interview following the announcement of the pilot project, CYFN executive director Shadelle Chambers said a Gladue training program in the Yukon has been much-needed and “a long time coming.” She sits on the Gladue management committee, which includes representatives from Yukon First Nations as well as the Crown’s office and Legal Aid.

“I know CYFN did a Gladue research project almost six years ago, so there’s been a lot of work over the years…. I think (the project is happening now because) it was good timing, political will, all those sorts of things,” she said.

Chambers said CYFN is hoping to host about one Gladue training session a year, similar to the three-day workshop that CYFN hosted in November 2017 in anticipation of the pilot project’s launch. Eleven participants, all First Nations people from around the territory, took part in that training and are now working under the guidance of experienced Gladue writers to produce two reports before they start working on their own.

Ideally, Chambers said, the pilot project will produce a “solid” roster of at least 10 Gladue writers and serve as a launching point for a permanent Gladue program.

“We would (like to) see a dedicated program here in the Yukon that is made up of a roster of First Nations writers and then handed over to a First Nations organization that will administer this project,” she said.

“I think other jurisdictions have Gladue courts with Gladue support workers, and so, ideally, that’s what I would hope to see in the next five to 10 years, but during this three-year pilot project, it’s beginning to really figure out all the kinks and then hand it over to a First Nations organization that will manage that program.”

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

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