Gladue report, requested by Christine Wood's killer, not 'some sort of race-based discount': lawyer
Brett Overby, found guilty of 2nd-degree murder, requested pre-sentencing report for Indigenous offenders
A defence lawyer's request for a Gladue report after a high-profile murder conviction in Winnipeg started a conversation this week about the pre-sentencing reports for Indigenous offenders.
The defence lawyer for Brett Overby made the request after a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder for killing Christine Wood.
Gladue reports provide the court with background on Indigenous offenders' personal histories to consider in sentencing — including substance abuse, poverty, victimization and experience in residential schools or the child welfare system — and may also suggest alternatives to jail.
Sheila North, former grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and a relative of the Wood family, said the request came as a surprise to her and Wood's immediate family, because Overby's defence didn't bring up his Indigenous heritage during the trial.
She said she's not sure if a Gladue report is appropriate in his case regardless, after she said court heard about stability in Overby's lifestyle.
"He had his own vehicle that he owned, his own house that he owned as a very young man … He's held a job for over 10 years, and he had a long-term girlfriend," she said. "That tells me he had many opportunities and a lot of supports to get to where he was, and yet he still acted this way."
Chris Gamby, spokesperson for the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba, said it's difficult for onlookers to speculate on the relevance of a Gladue report in any individual case until after it's completed.
"In my view, if the person is of Aboriginal descent they should be able to order one regardless, because at the end of the day, the value of a Gladue report is really going to be in the information that it contains," he said.
"It's not the ordering of the report, in my view, that is in any way controversial. Whatever comes out of it is, I think, where … the sentencing judge is going to need to decide how to apply Gladue principles to the ultimate decision."
Sarah Inness, Overby's lawyer, declined to elaborate on Overby's heritage, or any aspect of the report, because the matter is still before the courts.
The request was approved by Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Chris Martin, who heard Overby's case. He's set to make his decision on July 2.
'We need to do more'
A spokesperson for Manitoba Justice said Gladue reports are completed by probation officers. The determination of when they're warranted is made by the courts, so the province sets no criteria relating to Indigenous heritage.
Gladue reports became part of Canada's legal landscape after a 1999 Supreme Court decision that said sentencing judges must consider the effect on Indigenous offenders of things like residential schools, the Sixties Scoop or the child welfare system.
The Gladue case gave the highest court the opportunity to account for the legacy of colonialism in Canada and intergenerational trauma in the families of Indigenous offenders, who account for a disproportionate amount of people in prisons, Gamby said.
"In many ways, what Gladue does is it helps us [look] at a set of situations that someone might find themselves in, or a set of personal circumstances, and helps us understand them in context," he said.
"I hate the fact that people would look at it like it's some sort of a race-based discount, because it's not what it is. It's an acknowledgement that we need to do more."
It's commonplace for courts to consider the personal circumstances of offenders in sentencing, and Gladue reports offer just one element of the factors judges will consider, he added.
The effect the reports have can be significant in some cases, but in cases with extreme violence — like murder — the focus will remain on sentencing principles like proportionality and public safety, Gamby said.
Overby's conviction, second-degree murder, comes with a mandatory life sentence. Justice Martin will decide on the minimum parole ineligibility.
"There's no easy out for Mr. Overby," Gamby said. "His goose is cooked."