Legal Aid Ontario plans to address the 'acute need' for Gladue services in Northwestern Ontario in the coming months.
"When all this is finished we'll have the best Gladue program across the country," director general Nye Thomas said. "There'll still be more work to do after that, but it's addressing a long standing need."
Gladue reports allow the court to consider the life circumstances of Aboriginal people accused of crimes. It's a method of addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal peoples in the criminal justice system.
But for years, Thunder Bay has only had one person hired to write Gladue reports for courts throughout the region.
"In large parts of Ontario there is no Gladue report writing available," said lawyer Katherine Hensel.
"So the information is not before the courts with the result that the offender doesn't have their circumstances as an Aboriginal person considered by the court in sentencing with the result that they don't get an appropriate or fit sentence under the law."
Legal Aid Ontario recently announced $1 million dollars for Gladue services in southern Ontario, where there are already five Gladue report writers.
"Ironically it's relatively well-resourced in Toronto and southwestern Ontario even though the proportion of First Nations offenders before the court is much lower than it is in the north," Hensel said.
Language, distances barriers in the north
Providing the same service is more challenging in the northwest, according to Jonathan Rudin, the program director at Aboriginal Legal Services Toronto, which provides Gladue services.
Language barriers and distance will make talking to people and gathering information about a remote First Nation more difficult, he said.
"When we do Gladue reports we prefer to speak to people in person, but that is going to be expensive if people live in fly-in communities and you have to make a couple of visits," he said.
Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services submitted a proposal for Legal Aid Ontario to fund three Gladue report writers. One based in Thunder Bay, one in Sioux Lookout and one in Timmins.
Funding 'within a year'
Executive director Celina Reitberger said she would like to see Gladue reports as part of bail hearings.
"So that people are not in jail awaiting trial and they can be released with a solid plan that will help them with their healing," Reitberger said.
The Lakehead Law school has also asked for funding for Gladue services from Legal Aid Ontario.
Thomas said both proposals are being seriously considered and he expects to make announcements soon.
"We haven't finalized the details of those proposals yet, but I'm optimistic we'll be able to provide funding to both those programs within a year," he said.