Mi'kmaq Confederacy applauds court decision that recognized man's Indigenous heritage
'It really puts the courts [on] notice, saying that they need to consider the history of an Indigenous person'
The Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. is applauding a recent appeal decision that lessened the sentence of a young Indigenous man who was convicted for drug trafficking.
The Prince Edward Island Court of Appeal found that a judge mistakenly failed to consider the Cree background of Nicholas George Nash McInnis, who had been taken from his Manitoba parents as an infant and raised by a non-Aboriginal family on Prince Edward Island.
A provincial court judge rejected a joint Crown-defence submission that would have seen the 20-year-old man avoid jail time for possession of cannabis for the purpose of trafficking, after he was found with 15 grams of cannabis at Charlottetown Rural High School.
Furthermore, she decided not to consider the man's Aboriginal heritage in arriving at her decision — an intermittent sentence of 90 days in jail — because he had been adopted at a very young age.
An important decision
In the new ruling, the appeal court said the judge erred in refusing to accept the systemic factors that would reduce McInnis's culpability.
The appeals court imposed the joint recommended sentence — two years probation.
Lori St. Onge, director of Indigenous justice at the Mi'kmaq Confederacy, said it was an important decision for Indigenous people.
"It really puts the courts [on] notice, saying that they need to consider the history of an Indigenous person before passing sentence, and really must look at a restorative justice alternative when sentencing an individual."
More mental-health supports needed, chief says
The Supreme Court of Canada's 1999 Gladue decision said judges must take note of systemic or background factors when determining a sentence for Indigenous offenders in order to address their "serious overrepresentation" in prison.
Chief Matilda Ramjattan of Lennox Island, who is also chair of the confederacy, said the appeal court decision would have an impact on future cases, with so-called Gladue reports that provide a summary of an offender's circumstances given more weight.
"We have to consider the impacts of historical events to our people, and some of the systemic factors that play a part in that," she said. "So when we're talking about residential schools, the impacts of that, and the history of why our people have the most representation in the jail system."
She said the decision is for all Indigenous people, not only on P.E.I. but across the country.
And she says while that's encouraging, she also says more mental-health and trauma supports are needed to help people heal.
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With files from The Canadian Press and Angela Walker