'Urgency' needed to meet Gladue requirements in B.C. for Indigenous offenders
Justice systems across the country have been slow to effectively implement the legal requirement
The B.C. government says it plans to double the number of Gladue Reports produced for Indigenous offenders as it works to address the high number of Indigenous people in prisons.
Gladue reports provide judges with comprehensive information about life circumstances, historic trauma, and systemic racism during hearings for sentencing, bail and parole.
The reports also include recommendations on potential alternatives to prison, such as restorative justice programs.
According to B.C.'s Ministry of the Attorney General, only 117 formal Gladue reports have been produced in this fiscal year — even though about 600 offenders who required pre-sentence reports identified as Aboriginal.
"It's not adequate to address the full need. There's no question," said David Eby, B.C.'s Attorney General.
Gladue rights for Indigenous offenders are the result of a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision that aimed to address the over representation of Aboriginal people in Canada's prisons.
But justice systems across the country have been slow to effectively implement the legal requirement.
A recent report card on Canada's justice system also found B.C. has disproportionately high rates of Indigenous incarcerations.
"I really feel the urgency around this. The Supreme Court of Canada was quite clear in their instructions to B.C. for the need for these reports to be prepared for Indigenous offenders. Period," Eby said.
To help with the shortfall, the provincial budget in February included funding to produce up to 300 Gladue reports in the next fiscal year.
The province has also set aside about $700,000 to work with the B.C. Aboriginal Justice Council, and other organizations, on policy development, digital resources, and a provincial Gladue coordination office.
"In terms of where we have been, it's a very significant increase and an important development in provincial policy," said Doug White, a member of the B.C. Aboriginal Justice Council.
"In terms of the actual need though, it continues to be a significant shortfall."
Without the resources to produce enough formal Gladue reports, limited Gladue information is often included in pre-sentence reports instead, White said.
"It's very ineffective when it is done that way, so this new funding by the provincial government, it will significantly help with that."
As it stands, Gladue writers in B.C. work as independent contractors for the Legal Services Society.
Mitch Walker, vice-chairperson and co-founder of the Gladue Writers Society of British Columbia, said the need for Gladue reports could be better served by creating full-time writer positions within regional Indigenous governments.
"Justice has always been happening to First Nations populations. There has not been a lot of involvement in the actual process," he said.
Although progress has been slow on Gladue, Walker said he's seen a distinct shift in recent years in the way people who work in the justice system view the requirements.
Instead of being seen as extra work, quality reports are being seen as an effective and valuable tool by lawyers and judges, he said.
Producing more high quality Gladue reports will also require more work to recruit and train writers, said Carleton University law professor Jane Dickson, who is leading a national study on the how the courts are using Gladue information.
"We have been really strapped in this country for good training for Gladue writers," said Dickson,
Some training programs are being offered in B.C., including plans for the first accredited writer's training at Vancouver Community College, and a new online course through the Indigenous Perspectives Society in Victoria.
The next step is a set of standards for both the reports and the training of writers, Dickson said.
"Having that in place, maybe we can begin to achieve those remedial goals which are so crucial to the ongoing healing and wellness of Indigenous communities."