Yukon looks to improve system for sentencing Indigenous offenders

A three-year pilot project will train a stable of writers to produce Gladue reports for the courts, as needed. The reports are intended to help judges come up with appropriate sentences.

Pilot project will train a roster of writers to produce Gladue reports for sentencing judges

David Christie, executive director of the Yukon Legal Services Society, Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston, and Yukon Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee announce a 3-year pilot program on Tuesday to train writers to produce Gladue reports for Yukon courts. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Yukon is funding a pilot project to formalize and standardize the process of writing Gladue reports for judges sentencing Indigenous offenders.

A Gladue report provides a judge with in-depth information on an offender's personal background — for example, a history of substance abuse, poverty, victimization, or experience in residential schools or the child welfare system. They arose out of a 1999 B.C. court case, and are intended to address the over-representation of Indigenous people in jails. 

"This is really about getting the best possible information about any individual offender before the court, for consideration in determining what's an appropriate sentence, and what the variety of that sentence might be — restorative options, rehabilitative options, those kind of things," said Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee.

"As Minister of Justice, part of my mandate is to ensure that our justice system meets the best practices for fairness."

'Part of my mandate is to ensure that our justice system meets the best practices for fairness,' said McPhee. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

The territorial government will spend $530,000 on the three-year pilot project. It will involve training and paying Yukon writers to produce standardized Gladue reports, and then evaluating the program. 

McPhee says Gladue reports are mandatory, but Yukon has never had a consistent, formal process for producing them. Instead, "it's often been ad hoc," McPhee said.

Each year, an estimated 25 to 35 Gladue reports are needed in Yukon. McPhee says the goal is to develop a "roster" of trained writers who can be called on as needed.

According to McPhee, a consistent process will reduce delays in sentencing and "allow the courts to consider the realities of inter-generational trauma, stemming from colonialism."

The Whitehorse Correctional Centre. Gladue reports arose out of a B.C. court case in 1999 and are meant to address the over-representation of Indigenous people in jails by giving judges more information about offenders before sentencing them. (CBC)

No formal structure

First Nations and lawyers in Yukon have been pushing for a such a project for years. In 2015, the Council of Yukon First Nations commissioned a report that concluded that Yukon Gladue reports were woefully inadequate.

"All of the reports were provided on an ad hoc basis by report writers who have received little or no formal training and who took on the responsibility with no additional funding or support to supplement their existing positions," that report said.

David Christie, executive director of the Yukon Legal Services Society, said the courts have relied on a few writers who would do the work "on the side of their desk."

"There wasn't anything formal or any structure. People would go asking for a report, and there were, thankfully, some kind, qualified people who'd be interested in doing those reports," he said.

"We're very optimistic about this project."

Mark Stevens is one of those qualified writers the courts have relied on in the past. He's written Gladue reports at the request of an offender, the offender's family, a First Nation, or the court. 

Mark Stevens has written many Gladue reports in Yukon over the years. He hopes the new project will result in a more consistent system. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

"On occasion, if I'm in court, I might get a request in open court … to see if I'm available to provide a report," he said.

He supports the pilot project, saying he hopes Gladue reports will be more consistent. But he also stresses that the reports should not be seen as an end unto themselves. The goal, he says, is to consider ways to hold offenders accountable, beyond jail time.

Seeking Indigenous writers

The program will build on similar training that began last year, through the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN). Eleven people who work in the justice system were trained.

CYFN will work with Yukon Legal Aid to develop the new training course. Grand Chief Peter Johnston says the program is open to any writers, but he's encouraging Indigenous writers to come forward.

"Ideally, that's what we want, because there's a level of understanding in terms of the histories First Nations people have gone through," he said.

For Johnston, the program is another way to try to help offenders "get out of the system."

"Anytime that we can make substantial changes in supporting our people, I think it's a win for everybody in the territory," Johnston said.

With files from Dave Croft