Saskatoon

Retired lawyer says Sask. behind other provinces when using Gladue reports for Indigenous offenders

A retired lawyer says judges and the court system are ignoring an important tool that could help provide alternatives to sending Indigenous offenders to jail.

Gladue reports consider an Indigenous offender's background, suggest alternatives to jail

Christine Goodwin is the only person in Saskatchewan who writes what are called Gladue reports. She says the province lags behind others when it comes to commissioning the reports and adopting their recommendations. (CBC)

A retired Alberta lawyer who lives in Saskatoon and writes reports on Indigenous offenders says the province's judges are dropping the ball on sentencing.

Christine Goodwin is the only person in Saskatchewan who writes what are called Gladue reports.

The Gladue principle, which arose from a 1999 Supreme Court decision, says judges should consider an Indigenous offender's personal background — for example, a history of substance abuse, poverty, victimization, or experience in residential schools or the child welfare system — in sentencing.

Gladue reports provide the court with background about those personal circumstances, and also suggest alternatives to jail.

Reports rarely ordered: retired lawyer

But Goodwin says the reports are rarely ordered in Saskatchewan. When they are, she says, judges often ignore the recommendations.

"I would say [there have been] under 75 done ever in this province since 1999, and the Indigenous incarceration rate is very high in this province compared to other provinces," she said.

"Saskatchewan has been reluctant to take into account the Gladue factors in any case."

She says of the 25 reports she has prepared over three years, she can only recall one case where the judge adopted the suggestions in the report.

Goodwin prepares about eight reports a year. By comparison, there were 575 Gladue reports written in Alberta last year, and close to 300 in Ontario. There are pools of writers in those provinces who work on the reports.

Goodwin prepares about eight reports a year. By comparison, there were 575 Gladue reports written in Alberta last year, and close to 300 in Ontario. There are pools of writers in those provinces who work on the reports.

She says federal and provincial justice departments need to get involved to train more writers and help offset the costs.

Province can't verify number of Gladue writers

CBC asked for comment on this story from Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan.

He was not made available for comment, but an emailed response from a justice ministry spokesperson said "Saskatchewan fulfills its obligations to the Gladue Provision, as outlined in the Criminal Code, in a number of ways."

The spokesperson noted that courts in the province "primarily rely on information provided through pre-sentencing reports," and said "Aboriginal Court Workers, Legal Aid and Probation Officers often play a part in providing information on potential Gladue factors in court cases."

The spokesperson also said new probation officers hired by the province get five weeks of in-classroom orientation, which "includes training in aboriginal awareness and education about treaty rights. They are also given specific training for interviewing and writing pre-sentence reports that includes training specific to Gladue factors."

The ministry spokesperson could not say, though, how many Gladue report writers there are in Saskatchewan, or if the province has any plans to train or hire more.

"There is no nationally recognized certification program. As such, we are unable to verify how many Gladue reporter writers there are in the province. A few provinces, such as British Columbia and Ontario, have offered formal training in Gladue report writing," the spokesperson wrote.

The reports can take up to a year to prepare, and the cost can run into the thousands of dollars. The justice department pays for the report when a judge orders one.

Report ordered for Nikosis Cantre's killer

Brian Pfefferle is a Saskatoon defence lawyer. He ordered a Gladue report for the young woman who pleaded guilty to the beating death of infant Nikosis Cantre in Saskatoon and was sentenced as an adult this week for the murder.

Pfefferle says that the fact Goodwin is the sole Gladue writer in the province influences whether he'll request a report.

'There are cases where we have decided to forgo getting a Gladue report just simply because of the significant delays in getting the individuals before the court,' says Saskatoon defence lawyer Brian Pfefferle. (Don Somers/CBC)

"I think it's obvious, there are certain cases where we have decided to forgo completing Gladue reports and decided to do submissions of counsel" — facts presented by a lawyer for consideration by the court, but which aren't considered as evidence.

But those submissions "aren't as good, obviously, as providing a complete background," Pfefferle said.

"There are cases where we have decided to forgo getting a Gladue report just simply because of the significant delays in getting the individuals before the court."

Jennifer Claxton-Viczko prosecuted the young woman in the Nikosis Cantre case. She said that with the high proportion of Indigenous offenders in jail, more Gladue writers would be justified.

"I suspect that the numbers warrant it. Whether that will happen or not, I can't comment on that," she said.

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