Canada’s northwestern Yukon territory reflects on Gladue Indigenous sentencing principle

Advocates say the pilot program has provided a structured way to get necessary information before Yukon courts. (iStock)
It’s been one year since the Gladue Report Writing Program was launched in Yukon, which formalized the process for creating specialized reports for Indigenous offenders in the territory for the first time.

Representatives from the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) and the Yukon Legal Services Society say it’s still too early to tell what difference the pilot program is making, but it’s provided a structured way to get necessary information before Yukon courts.

“Now we have a process that everybody should be aware of and knows the criteria and prerequisites that need to be met,” said Shadelle Chambers, executive director for CYFN and a member of the Gladue management committee, which oversees the project.

A Gladue report provides a judge with in-depth information on an Indigenous offender’s background. It can include things like histories in residential school and child welfare systems, substance use, and family and community history.

The reports are named after a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision that requires judges to consider these factors when sentencing Indigenous offenders.

“We’ve known for quite some time that there’s overrepresentation of Indigenous people in our jails and in our justice system,” said David Christie, executive director of the Yukon Legal Services Society and the administrator of the pilot project.

“Gladue reports are one way that’s seen as a means of addressing that.”

David Christie, executive director of the Yukon Legal Services Society, Grand Chief Peter Johnston of the Council of Yukon First Nations, and Yukon Justice Minister Tracey-Anne McPhee announced the pilot program in February 2018. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Each year, between 25 to 35 reports are needed in Yukon.

Before the three-year pilot project launched in February 2018, with $530,000 from the Yukon government, reports in the territory were written on an ad hoc basis through informal requests and with no funding.

Now, there is a roster of three qualified report writers with plans to train more, said Chambers. They have completed 37 reports over the past year.

“We try to ensure that the roster is filled with folks who are First Nations and who can understand the cultural context of the accused,” she added.

A Gladue report is one tool in the toolkit for the judge to use in terms of sentencing.

Shadelle Chambers, executive director, Council of Yukon First Nations

The criminal code says the Gladue decision encourages judges to consider restorative approaches to sentencing and sanctions other than imprisonment. But it’s “not a means of automatically reducing” sentences for Indigenous offenders.

“I think it’s difficult to know what impact a Gladue [report] really has,” said Chambers. “A Gladue report is one tool in the toolkit for the judge to use in terms of sentencing.”

Other factors a judge must consider include victim impact statements, mitigating and aggravating factors, and arguments from the Crown and defence.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to the judge and it’s supposed to be fair and I think what helps to make it more fair, in a sense, is more information,” said Christie.

Some jurisdictions across Canada, like the Northwest Territories, do not provide separate Gladue reports but incorporate Gladue factors into pre-sentence reports.

But Christie said pre-sentence reports focus more on risk and risk management and are written by probation officers, who have different roles than Gladue report writers.

While some jurisdictions incorporate Gladue factors into pre-sentence reports, David Christie says they serve different purposes. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

“We just think they serve different purposes and it’s better to keep the two separate.”

Christie said they would like feedback on the program, and there are plans to formally evaluate the pilot project.

Related links from around the North:

Canada: Language barrier in northern Quebec can make court baffling for Inuit, justice workers say, CBC News

Finland: Police in Northern Finland overstretched, says retiring officer, Yle News

Sweden: Cross-border Nordic policing would better serve Arctic: politician, Radio Sweden

United States: Police officers in Alaska villages hired despite criminal record: report, Alaska Public Media

Emily Blake, CBC News

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