An Aboriginal justice expert says the principle of alternative sentencing for Aboriginal offenders is not getting the attention it deserves in Canadian courtrooms.
Professor Jane Dickson-Gilmore says lawyers, judges and the Canadian public all need to learn more about the Gladue Principle and why it is fundamental to Aboriginal justice.
This principle was established by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999. It is aimed at providing alternatives to jail sentences for Aboriginal offenders in an effort to provide better outcomes and to reduce the gross over-representation of Aboriginal offenders in Canadian jails and prisons.
Dickson-Gilmore is helping prepare the reports and says it is not a “get out of jail free” card:
“This is absolutely not the case. A Gladue report is an effort by the defendant and the defendant s counsel to help the judge understand how growing up in the country as an Aboriginal person means you often have a different kind of life.”
Gladue reports take into account the upbringing and social factors that have had a unique and detrimental effect on Aboriginal people who break the law.
The professor says even most lawyers are not fully aware the principle is a key part of Aboriginal justice, and it must be considered by a judge in sentencing:
“What we are seeing is a fair measure of push back, predominantly on the part of Crowns.”
Dickson-Gilmore is hoping her research will convince provincial and federal governments to provide more resources for education and alternative sentencing:
“To ensure the Aboriginal communities have the resources and support in place to create community-based sentencing alternatives, so the judges really have resources to draw upon.”
Dickson-Gilmore’s research is still in its preliminary stages, but she says it indicates that a very important Aboriginal right is not receiving the attention it deserves.