SUMMERSIDE – First Nations Islanders who find themselves in the court system now have a new service available to them.
Three staffers from the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.'s Aboriginal Justice program were recently certified in the writing of Gladue reports.
Don MacKenzie, executive director of the Mi'kmaq Confederacy, said he welcomes the news as a positive step for P.E.I. as a whole.
Having these reports available here will help the process of healing many of the problems facing Island First Nations communities, said MacKenzie.
“It's not going to solve everything overnight... it's a marathon, not a sprint – but this is a very good step in the right direction,” he said.
Gladue reports can be requested by any Aboriginal Canadian at any time as they move through the court system, but are usually prepared in conjunction with pre-sentence reports.
Pre-sentence reports are prepared to give judges a better overall understanding of a person's circumstances, treatment background and chances for rehabilitation, prior to sentencing and must be taken into account when determining the severity of a person's punishment.
Gladue reports are meant to examine factors prevalent in or unique to First Nations communities, such as what affect the residential schools or their legacy had on the client, or the loss of their traditional ways of life.
The reports also look at what alternative treatments might open to the client, such as community healing circles.
Gladue reports were introduced more than a decade ago because the Canadian court system recognized that the number of First Nations people in prisons was disproportionate to their population, said MacKenzie.
“The very near-sighted, narrow-minded point of view is that Aboriginal peoples must just be committing more crimes. But that doesn't get to the systemic root problem of why are Aboriginal peoples committing more crimes,” he said.
“It really goes back to their experiences, aboriginal schools, disenfranchisement – any number of very serious wrongs that were committed against them as a population over the course of the last 100 years.
“Gladue is all about looking at why are these crimes being committed? What are the systemic factors,” he added.
It's also important to note that a Gladue report is not a free ride to a lighter sentence, added Lori St. Onge, director of Aboriginal Justice with the Confederacy.
“The report is not there to make the person look better. It's there to give the judge facts and an understanding of where they are coming from,” said St. Onge.
She also said that Gladue reports have not previously been available on P.E.I. for various reasons, not the least of which is due to a lack of funding, but also, to her knowledge, no one has requested one until now.
A request for a Gladue report was made about a month ago by one person on P.E.I. Once that happened, the Confederacy discussed the situation and decided to fund training for three of its employees. One being St. Onge, who will review and edit the final reports, and Sheri Bernard and Julie Pellissier-Lus, who will do the research and write them.
St. Onge said that the Confederacy will be taking steps to make sure that their membership is aware that this option is available to them. Anyone with questions is encouraged to contact the Aboriginal Justice program.