Indigenous groups release booklet for workers in the criminal justice system

A new booklet designed for people working within the criminal justice system aims to give more context and understanding when working with Indigenous offenders.

The new booklet is being distributed across the Atlantic region

A new booklet is being distributed to people that work in the criminal justice system across the Atlantic region to help increase understanding of the history of Indigenous people in Atlantic Canada. (Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.)

A new booklet designed for people working in the criminal justice system aims to give more context and understanding when working with Indigenous people involved with the system. 

It provides information about the Indigenous groups in Atlantic Canada, a brief history of Indigenous-Crown relations and The Indian Act, as well as how generational trauma, such as the residential schools, are still having an effect today.  

When you're looking at all these and how they contribute to an offender, they play a huge role.— Sheri Bernard

Bringing Balance to the Scales of Justice was designed by the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. in partnership with the Elsipogtog Restorative Justice Program in New Brunswick, the Miawpukek First Nation in Newfoundland and Labrador and the Mi'kmaq Legal Support Network in Nova Scotia.

It was released in the last month and is now being distributed to police, court officials, probation officers, judges and lawyers throughout the Atlantic region. 

Giving context

Sheri Bernard, Indigenous justice coordinator with the confederacy, says it's important that systemic issues within the Indigenous community are given a proper historical context — particularly around the residential schools.

"There are certainly effects that have come from that ... in areas of high unemployment, lack of opportunities, lack of education, the increase in lateral violence, increase in isolation, higher rate of suicide," she said.

"When you're looking at all these and how they contribute to an offender, they play a huge role. ... There's also the issues around child apprehension, like the 60's Scoop, the effects that it's had, not just on that one generation but how it has affected the offender intergenerationally, so those issues come down the line."

It serves much more of a purpose than sending the person to jail where the issue is not resolved.— Sheri Bernard

Bernard said these problems do not disappear with the passing of time alone.

"The trauma that the parents, or grandparents or great-grandparents had experienced comes down through the generations," she said.

"So the intergenerational trauma, whatever trauma hasn't been resolved from one generation gets passed down to the next."

Gladue reports

Gladue reports are pre-sentencing or bail hearing reports that give recommendations to the court about sentencing, and offer insight into the specific background of Indigenous people involved in the justice system.

The trauma that the parents, or grandparents or great-grandparents had experienced comes down through the generations.— Sheri Bernard

Bernard said over half of Indigenous people involved with the justice system opt to have a Gladue report.

Taking a more contextual approach to criminal justice, she said, would help not only offenders, but the system itself.

"Identifying whether it's an issue of substance abuse for example, then addressing that issue, it serves much more of a purpose than sending the person to jail where the issue is not resolved," she said.

'Transportation is a huge issue'

Bernard said a lack of understanding of the issues affecting Indigenous people can cause a cycle of offences keeping them perpetually in the system.

"Whenever we're looking at higher rates of incarceration ... it's usually with offences for crimes against the system, so for example people breaching," she said.

"The issue there primarily is transportation. Transportation is a huge issue ... if they can't make their meetings with probations."

Bernard said the hope is the booklet will help educate everyone working within the criminal justice system.

"For people just to have as a resource and to just understand and hopefully beat down some of the stereotypes that are out there. At least provide some understanding as to why Aboriginal people are in the current situation that they're in with the high rates of incarceration."

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With files from Laura Chapin