Indigenous

New Gladue report writing program to be offered in B.C. but profession still lacks regulation

Experts say the new program at Vancouver Community College will help fill training needs and build capacity, but they also say the reports should be standardized and the profession as a whole needs to be regulated by a professional body.  

B.C. now has 2 training programs for prospective Gladue report writers

The Court of Appeal and Supreme Court building in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Vancouver Community College announced this week its pilot program for training Gladue report writers will be expanding into a year-long, part-time certificate program starting in October.

Gladue reports are personal histories submitted to courts on behalf of Indigenous accused. They take their name from the 1999 Supreme Court decision that found that judges must take an Indigenous person's background and historical factors into account during sentencing and consideration of alternatives to incarceration.

Experts say the new program will help fill training needs and build capacity, but they also say the reports should be standardized and the profession as a whole needs to be regulated by a professional body. 

"There's no formal designation. Gladue is quite ad hoc," said Doug White, Chair of the B.C. First Nations Justice Council.  

"There's pockets of good work going on but there's no sort of, comprehensive strategy for proper Gladue implementation." 

Doug White delivers a keynote address at the Vancouver Island University's fourth annual Indigenous Speakers Series.

Anisa White is a Gladue writer, lawyer and chair of the Gladue Writers Society of B.C. She said it's important to regulate who can identify themselves as a Gladue writer because "we want to maintain and improve on the standard that judges have come to expect."

Having a professional regulator would also create a mechanism through which writers could be held accountable in the instance of a complaint and would also allow for the establishment of professional standards like requiring members to take part in regular professional development courses. 

Mitch Walker, co-chair of the Gladue Writers Society of B.C., said the certificate program at Vancouver Community College will help move the field into one where training is standardized.

Standardization, Walker said, is crucial if Gladue reports are going to be taken seriously and considered a useful tool for people with decision-making authority. 

"If they were very different from one another in terms of content and quality then judges wouldn't trust them," he said. 

"We have a pretty rigorous editing process and legal review process in B.C. And I think that's why Gladue reports have become more ubiquitous and well used in court." 

Roster of writers growing

The Legal Services Society of B.C., which provides legal aid in the province, maintains B.C.'s roster of Gladue writers. In 2016 the society had a roster of 14 writers and as of this year, that list had grown to 40. 

Vancouver Community College is now the second place people in B.C. can turn to for training in Gladue report writing — the Indigenous Perspectives Society offers a 10-week online training course. 

Rhaea Bailey, manager of Indigenous Services for the society, said she hopes the new certificate program at Vancouver Community College will help grow the pool of writers. 

For years the Legal Services Society has also supported people who meet pre-qualifying criteria to become Gladue writers through a mentorship program. Those who complete external training programs are still required to meet the society's requirements to get on the roster if they want to write reports for legal aid clients. 

Despite the growing number of Gladue report writers in B.C. and increased volume of reports produced each year, the issue of the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in custody persists. 

Funding commitments for reports

"It's always been a remarkable thing to me that the overrepresentation crisis was recognized as a crisis over 20 years ago," said Doug White. 

"Now what's happened in the past 20 years, where are we at now? We're pushing 30 per cent of the prison population… it's gotten far far worse, like gravely worse."

The medium-security Matsqui prison in Abbotsford, B.C., in 2006. (Richard Lam/The Canadian Press)

In 2017/2018, 32 per cent of the adults incarcerated in B.C. were Indigenous, while Indigenous people made up six per cent of the B.C. population in 2016.

In B.C. the number of Gladue reports funded and produced each year still falls short compared to how many Indigenous people are moving through the criminal justice system. 

This has been acknowledged by people like B.C. Attorney General David Eby, who last year committed to doubling the number of Gladue reports produced for offenders as part of its efforts to curb overrepresentation. Previously Gladue reports for legal aid clients were only funded by the Law Foundation of B.C. 

Rhaea Bailey said before the province committed funding for reports the society only had the financial capacity for roughly 80 reports a year. This year she said they expect to support the completion of around 300 reports. 

The Vancouver Community College certificate program will take in its first cohort in October. The Legal Services Society said it hopes to have a roster of 50 Gladue writers by 2020.