R v Olson, 2021 BCSC 61

An appropriate cumulative sentence of 11 and ½ years is imposed for an offender found guilty for a string of offences that are violent. Despite a tenuous connection to some Indigenous heritage, a Gladue report was ordered and considered in the sentencing process.

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Mr. Olson was found guilty, following a trial, of six counts contrary to the the Criminal Code from events that took place in 2017, including assault with a weapon, contrary to s 267(a); the reckless discharge of a firearm; possession of a loaded prohibited firearm (a sawed off shotgun) without a licence; possession of a firearm while prohibited; possession of stolen property in excess of $5000; and resist or wilfully obstruct a peace officer.

A Gladue report was obtained for Mr. Olson upon the Crown learning of possible Indigenous heritage. Mr. Olson, now 41, has a very lengthy criminal record, reaching back to 2001, with 58 prior convictions. Mr. Olson had a troubled childhood and felt unfairly treated by his stepfather. He recently reconnected with his mother and learned that there could be some Indigenous heritage on his mother’s side, that is a great, great grandmother, was believed to be First Nations. According to the Gladue report, Mr. Olson has six children with different mothers, and maintains some limited contact with one of his children. The Gladue report writer, noted that the Indigenous lineage could not be independently corroborated, and focussed on corrections and community resources available to Mr. Olson arising out of this somewhat tenuous connection.

It is clear from the nature of his offences and the risk of Mr. Olson reoffending that the principles of deterrence and denunciation are paramount, along with the protection of the public. However, there is a potential for rehabilitation that must also be taken into account, including considering the principles set out in s 718.2(b), (c), (d) and (e), that is, parity of sentencing, the totality principle, and restraint in imposing terms of imprisonment.

This string of offences is long and involves violence. Although there are connections between some of the counts, the indictment has a number of offences with slight or no connections. It is difficult to determine an appropriate and fair approach. Concurrent sentences are used where appropriate, but some of the sentences must necessarily be consecutive (R v M(CA), [1996] SCR 500). A total of 11 1⁄2 years, with credit for time served, is an appropriate cumulative sentence of this series of offences, and does not offend the totality principle.

R v Wood, 2021 MBQB 4

An imposed sentence for 18 years’ incarceration is considered fit for an Indigenous offender convicted of manslaughter for killing his wife. His moral blameworthiness, even when tempered for his Gladue circumstances, is very high. Denunciation is critical in condemning spousal violence, particularly the chronic threat to Indigenous women. While restorative sentences are important in many situations of an Indigenous victim and abuser, that is far less so in cases of murder or manslaughter.

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In 2018, Jonathon Wood was convicted of manslaughter for killing his wife, Kathleen Wood, in their home community of St. Theresa Point First Nation, Manitoba. Both Mr. Wood and his wife are Indigenous persons who were raised, and lived in the isolated First Nation with a population of about 4,000 people, accessible only by air, boat or winter ice-road. They began their relationship in 2004 and were married in 2010. Mr. Wood intermittently assaulted Mrs. Wood since 2012. He was convicted of assaulting her four times. By this point, they had three children together, along with an older boy from Mrs. Wood’s prior relationship. These assaults followed a consistent pattern.

When Mr, Wood attacked Mrs. Wood in 2013, 2014 and 2015, he was on some form of bail or probation aimed at reducing the chance he would assault her again. When he ultimately assaulted and killed her, he was still bound by two Probation Orders which stipulated he was not to have contact with Mrs. Wood and imposed restrictions on him when drinking. Regardless of these Orders, Mr. Wood was charged again for assault and aggravated assault of several people, including Mrs. Wood, as well as four probation breaches. He was released on a Recognizance which included not to communicate with Mrs. Wood, and in part, allowed him to be arrested even if he was just in the area of St. Theresa Point.

Despite the court orders, and his promise to abide by them, Mr. Wood went to St. Theresa Point to see his family and Mrs. Wood. A party took place at Mr. Wood’s brother’s residence, and all were intoxicated. As the evening progressed, Mr. and Mrs. Wood got into an argument, which eventually led to Mr. Wood assaulting Mrs. Wood with his fists and feet, repeating the escalating pattern of the four prior convictions. The brother wanted to check on Mrs. Wood, who was then lying on the floor, but Mr. Wood told him to leave her alone, that she was just passed-out. Concerned, the brother went next door for help but returned moments later to Mrs. Wood no longer breathing.

Mrs. Wood’s injuries were awful. The autopsy revealed the true devastation. The forensic pathologist detailed many injuries including numerous bones broken, including her jaw, left clavicle, left wrist and all 24 ribs, 23 of which had multiple fractures. She also suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage, full-thickness tongue laceration, contusions and lacerations of the lungs and diaphragm, and contusion of the liver. There was no evidence Mrs. Wood’s injuries were caused by anything other than Mr. Wood beating her at the party.

A pre-sentence and Gladue report was prepared for sentencing. Mr. Wood left school with very little education, and no employable skills. There is nothing to suggest Mr. Wood experienced any mental health concerns. Poverty, unemployment, lack of education and substance abuse were negative influences in Mr. Wood’s upbringing. During the course of his times in custody, Mr. Wood participated in many programs, including anger management, parenting skills and healthy relationships.

The vulnerability of a victim, particularly a woman in a domestic context, are well established aggravating factors on sentencing and ones which emphasize denunciation and deterrence (R v LP, 2020 QCCA 1239). Generally, spousal killings attract a higher sentence, and greater condemnation, than other types of manslaughter (s 718.2(a)(ii) of the Criminal Code). Mrs. Wood’s Indigenous status, and living in a community so under-serviced and isolated as St. Theresa Point First Nation, heightened her vulnerability to spousal violence (R v AD, 2019 ABCA 396). It is clear that this event was not only catastrophic for Mrs. Wood but also for her four teenage children.

The nature of the beating was merciless. His previous pattern of beating Mrs. Wood and resulting convictions, his sober defiance of court orders, and his willful disregard for placing her, his wife, in situations of grave danger, adds considerably to his blameworthiness. Denunciation is critical in condemning spousal violence, particularly the chronic threat to Indigenous women. There is the need to separate Mr. Wood from his community so he is no longer a threat to them.

R v Nahanee, 2021 BCCA 13

Appeal dismissed. The Appellant’s guilty plea was not accompanied by a joint submission on sentencing, thereby the trial judge was not obliged to notify counsel that she planned to impose a longer sentence than what was sought by the Crown. The sentence was not demonstrably unfit, as the Appellant’s Indigenous heritage was taken into account when assessing aggravating factors.

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The Appellant, Mr. Nahanee, who grew up in the Squamish Nation Capilano Reserve in West Vancouver, pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault and was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. The first count was against SR on one occasion, the second was against EN on many occasions. The sentencing judge ordered a pre-sentence report, a psychiatric assessment, and a Gladue report.

The offences against EN were committed over a long period. EN lived in the care of her grandparents, together with the Appellant, her uncle, between 2010 and 2015. When she first moved into their home, she was 13 years old, and the Appellant was 19 years old. The Appellant repeatedly assaulted her at night, and when she was 14 years old, the assaults escalated with so much frequency she lost track of the number. EN came forward to the police in 2018, after learning that Mr. Nahanee had also assaulted her younger cousin, SR. SR had told her grandmother about past assaults by her uncle, but was not believed by her family.

Gladue factors were considered at length by the trial judge, but did not weigh significantly in sentencing. The Appellant had not endured violence or abuse, and was raised in a safe home. She described the Appellant’s family’s history, and his forebears’ experience in residential schools and their loss of cultural and spiritual connections. She placed significant weight upon the fact the victim and the community in question here were Indigenous, and the victims, as a result, were much more vulnerable to sexual assault than their non-Indigenous counterparts (R v Barton, 2019 SCC 33; R v SPS, 2019 BCPC 158).

The admission made by the Appellant, amounted to an admission that there had been prior, uncharged assaults, the victim had reported them to her grandmother, and she had been disbelieved. Given that the admission was made to assist the court in sentencing following a guilty plea, no other purpose could be served by the admission. It was certainly not an admission that the victim had previously made false reports to her grandmother.

The sentencing judge acknowledged the obligation to consider the Gladue principles in this case, as in every case involving an Indigenous offender. Having done so, it was not an error to consider the extent to which the offender himself was affected by cultural oppression, social inequality and systemic discrimination. Appropriate care was taken in this case to identify Gladue factors and to determine whether they attenuated the Appellant’s moral blameworthiness. It should be borne in mind that the application of the Gladue principles in this case must also have been tempered by consideration of the fact the victims were Indigenous children. The effort at reconciliation that, in part, motivates the Gladue approach to sentencing, is not served by sentences that do not sufficiently deter violence against Indigenous children.

R v Alphonse, 2020 BCSC 1882

A Gladue report and pre-sentence report helped inform the sentence of 44 months incarceration, with credit for 81 days pre-trial detention for an Indigenous man who shot an Indigenous woman, who now suffers from lifelong debilitating injuries from the bullet wound.

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Kelvin Alphonse was with a small group of friends and family at a home, having some drinks and sharing time with one another. Things took a turn and Mr. Alphonse was asked to leave the gathering. He complied but returned a few moments later with a gun and shot Janet Paul as she was walking down the road, having left the party with her nephew. Ms. Paul now suffers lifelong debilitating injuries as a result of the bullet wound. Mr. Alphonse was convicted of that shooting and various firearms offences connected to it. Two of the offences for which he stands convicted carry mandatory minimum sentences of four years.

Mr. Alphonse is a 53 years old Tsilhqot’in First Nation man registered with the Lhtako (Red Bluff) Dene band and a residential school survivor. He has provided the Court with substantial information about his background and about his current circumstances, medically and otherwise in a Gladue Report and a Pre-Sentence Report. His criminal record is indicative of a person experiencing alcoholism. His early record contains convictions for property related offences and impaired driving.

Parliament insists that certain firearms offences must be punished by a prescribed minimum jail sentence. The prescribed minimum sentences at issue here have withstood prior constitutional scrutiny. Parliament also directs sentencing judges to recognize the systemic racism that plagues the criminal justice system and which has caused the disproportionate incarceration of Indigenous peoples (Section 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code; R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688). At the same time, s 718.2(e), as now constituted, directs sentencing judges to account for harm done to the victim and to the community. In this case, the harm done to Ms. Paul is grave and any sentence must properly reflect that harm. To that end, account is to be taken of Ms. Paul, her pain and suffering and her status as an Indigenous woman.

This proceeding has had a protracted history, impacted by a change of counsel, a constitutional challenge complicated by intersecting sentencing provisions and by a pandemic restricting access to the court. In this case, it is significant that Mr. Alphonse experienced residential schools both first hand and generationally. His experience at the St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School was “formally documented” and is described the horrendous history of the school in the Gladue report. Mr. Alphonse’s teenage years were similarly difficult.

Mr. Alphonse is remorseful and acknowledges the magnitude of the pain and suffering his actions caused Ms. Paul. He recognized the destructive role alcohol was playing in his life and the impact it had on others, most significantly, Ms. Paul. Also mitigating factors are his lengthy attendance at VisionQuest and ongoing involvement in alcohol treatment demonstrates his commitment to ongoing recovery, which includes abstinence for over four years. The Court imposes the sentence of 44 months incarceration, with credit for 81 days pre-trial detention.

* Read “Case highlights ‘tension’ in sentencing Indigenous offenders” here to read Ben Bulmer’s article that discusses complex issues in regards to this case.

R v Angnatuk, 2020 QCCS 3650

The Court sentenced an Inuk man to life imprisonment and ordered him ineligible for parole for 18 years for the second-degree murder of his Inuk partner. His Gladue factors were considered in setting the period of ineligibility for parole but they were the only mitigating factor.

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Jimmy Angnatuk, was found guilty by jury of the second degree murder of Elisabeth Novalinga. By law, Mr. Angnatuk faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. Access to the appropriate tools and programs to address his issues is paramount, and that Mr. Angnatuk will take steps towards rehabilitation. Domestic violence, in an Indigenous context or not, is a scourge on society. Mr. Angnatuk is to be sentenced to life imprisonment without eligibility for parole for 18 years.

Mr. Angnatuk and Ms. Novalinga lived in Kuujjuarapik and were in a relationship. On the day of her murder, both consumed alcohol and had an argument. Later that evening, the police received an emergency call. They arrived at the house shortly after, where the accused remained on the premises, and told the officers that he had killed Ms. Novalinga. She was found deceased with multiple blunt force injuries and knife wounds on her body.

Ms. Novalinga’s two children are now left without a mother. Mr. Angnatuk murdered Ms. Novalinga while he was bound by an undertaking, and he has a pending case of assault causing bodily harm. He has a history of abuse against his partners and has multiple prior convictions for violent offences against his partners but also against strangers. He is impulsive and extremely dangerous, has not shown a real possibility of rehabilitation, and has been in and out of prison without it being a deterrent.

Fixing an extended period of parole ineligibility is a very fact-sensitive process (R v Shropshire, [1995] 4 SCR 227). Sentencing is an individualized process. The sanction must be adapted to the nature of the offence and the situation of the offender (R v Nasogaluak, [2010] 1 SCR 206). The Court has to weigh the objectives listed in s 718 of the Criminal Code and against the facts and the relevant aggravating or mitigating factors, consider the ranges of sentences for similar circumstances, as well as the needs of the community in which the offence occurred.

Although the Court did not have a contemporary pre-sentence report that could help assess his risk of reoffending, Mr. Angnatuk has, by his own admission, serious anger and emotional issues that have been left largely unaddressed over the years. Mr. Angnatuk mentioned to his Gladue Report Writer that he is aware that he has a lot of anger inside, and that he understands that he needs help with his feelings and his anger in order not to reoffend. He shows an interest for programs or counselling sessions tailored to Inuit or that are culturally relevant and in his own language or that offer traditional activities.

Ms. Novalinga was, as Mr. Angnatuk is, Inuk, and suffered a horrible fate at the hands of her partner, who prevented her from getting help in extricating herself from a violent situation because he did not want to go to jail. The aggravating factors are numerous in the present case. The Court also has to take into account Gladue factors in determining Mr. Angnatuk’s sentence. The Court analyzed the factors documented in the Gladue Report that pertain to Mr. Angnatuk, his family, the community of Kuujjuaq, and the lasting impact of assimilation policies on Inuit People. However, were it not for these elements, the Court would have found no substantive mitigating factor in Mr. Angnatuk’s favour.

R v Head, 2020 ABPC 211

The Court sentenced an Indigenous man to 245 days in prison (time served) followed by three years of probation for various offences including robbery of a convenience store. Counsel initially agreed to a joint submission on sentence for 30 months in prison but this position was abandoned once counsel investigated Gladue factors and the legal relevance of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder to moral blameworthiness.

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Simon Peter Head, a 26-year-old Aboriginal man pleaded guilty to 12 separate charges. A joint submission was presented of 30 months of jail, less 5 months time served, leaving 25 months left to be served in a federal institution where he had never been before. Gladue factors were read in superficially. The Crown’s position was that Mr. Head had an aggravating record with regard to breaches and failings to appear, as well as a history of assault and property offences.

In March 2017, a Gladue report was prepared. Mr. Head at the time of the report was almost 23 years of age. This report was prepared for 2 robbery charges that he was facing in 2017. Mr. Head dropped out of school, and in respect to Child Welfare system, he had been fostered. He had two different group homes between the ages of 12 and 16. Upon leaving, he did not have any means of employment and has not maintained any type of employment since then. When he was young, he started using alcohol. When he was 19, he then switched to crystal meth, which is his current addiction, and he struggles with now.

In 2017, he was hopeful to get out of his criminal life. He was interested in his Aboriginal heritage. He wanted to work with an Elder and learn how to make drums. He recognized that he needed help to manage, was remorseful for what he had done, particularly to the victims. He wanted to try and go back to do some schooling, particularly in computers. Although not formally diagnosed with FASD, he does have indicators. Although the Court found that Mr. Head’s moral culpability is at the lower end, it does not to detract from the fact that he caused harm to individuals.

The Court advised that counsel must understand that before bringing joint submissions before the court involving Aboriginal persons, they must do a careful analysis of the intersections of the Gladue factors related to this accused and what is a fit and proper sentence. Coming before a court and expecting a sentencing judge to rubberstamp a joint submission is not what Gladue says what the judge’s function is.

Although joint submissions are important to the administration of justice, they should not be accepted where the joint submission has failed to properly consider Gladue factors including FASD and other cultural circumstances. Judges should not be adding to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal persons in prisons where alternative approaches are available and which would meet the principles and objectives of sentencing. Counsel must be prepared to come to court with the proper information. This was not the case in the matter before this Court as demonstrated in its history.

R c Esau, 2020 QCCQ 5044

The Court issued a suspended sentence and a three-year probation order for a 54-year-old Cree woman found guilty of trafficking in cocaine and possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking. The Court took judicial notice of the increasingly disproportionate numbers of Indigenous women in Canadian prisons. It found the circumstances of Ms. Esau’s life to be harrowing, including recurring experiences of domestic violence, forced marriage to a sexually, physically, and psychologically abusive husband in her Pentecostal community, and periods of homelessness. The Gladue report and the Pre-Sentence Report highlighted the need for participation in treatment and healing programs. 

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Marion Esau, a 54-year-old Indigenous woman from the Cree First Nation, pleaded guilty to charges of having trafficked in cocaine and having had cocaine in her possession for the purpose of trafficking. A Pre-Sentence Report and Gladue report were prepared. Ms. Esau was from a large family from the same biological parents. The family had problems with alcohol, and violence was common in the home. Suicide was rampant, indeed one of her brothers committed suicide at the age of 14. Furthermore, the family followed a traditional lifestyle, placing little emphasis on schooling. Her father and several members of her family attended Indian residential schools.

Because her parents are Pentecostal, Ms. Esau was forced into marriage at the age of 16. Her mother was the one who chose her husband, an uneducated man who lived primarily in the woods. During her marriage, she had four children, and was subject to extreme domestic violence. Isolated, friendless, and unable to see even her parents, she considered suicide. When she left her husband, she also had to leave her children behind. She went to social services for help, but did not receive any. After leaving her husband, she became involved with another man but also experienced severe violence in that relationship. Her current spousal relationship is not violent, but they were homeless.

Ms. Esau has a criminal record going back to 1999, when she was 34 years old. Her prior offences are related primarily with her periods of homelessness and substance abuse. The offences were mostly assault, threats, and theft, and they resulted in occasionally supervised probationary sentences, community work, and fines. She accepts full responsibility for her actions and has shown a good capacity for introspection and an acceptable degree of empathy, both for her community and individually. In the probation officer’s opinion, Ms. Esau must take part in various treatment and programs to heal the wounds caused by her past life. The author of the Gladue report emphasized that Ms. Esau is worried about her husband and daughter if she is sent to prison. Her daughter sometimes gives her some respite by helping her take care of her son, who is epileptic and an alcoholic.

The Court notes that Ms. Esau, as an Indigenous woman, had been victim of violence as it has been discussed in The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Without setting aside the other principles of sentencing, the Court notes the importance of the principle in section 718.2(e) Criminal Code. In cases involving Indigenous offenders, consideration should be given to all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances and consistent with the harm done to victims or to the community. The Court finds that a suspended sentence of 36 months with restorative justice measures to be an appropriate sentence.

R v Wentzell, 2020 NSPC 20

The Court sentenced an Indigenous offender who stabbed her significant other, to a global sentence of a suspended sentence with a period of probation for three years with conditions. This sentence provides the best mechanism for assuring that the offender continues on her path towards a pro-social lifestyle. Society’s protection is best assured by the continued supervision and encouragement of the offender’s efforts and progress in her rehabilitation.

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Ms. Jennifer Wentzell is a 38-year-old woman of Mi’kmaq ancestry and a member of the Gold River First Nation. One night, when intoxicated, she uttered a threat to kill and then subsequently stabbed her significant other. The use of a knife and a resulting penetrative wound to the victim coupled with Ms. Wentzell’s prior criminal record must have a sentenced imposed that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of Ms. Wentzell.

A Gladue Report was prepared in 2019, and a sentencing circle was held in the Gold River community in 2020. At the sentencing circle, two videos were viewed regarding the events that led up to the altercation, including Ms. Wentzell being told her body was gross and some physical altercations between the couple. The victim in this matter declined to provide a Victim Impact Statement or participate in the sentencing circle.

Ms. Wentzell’s life has been marred with instability, poverty, homelessness, and a lack of education and employment opportunities. She has experienced domestic violence, sexual abuse, and the involvement of the child welfare system. She has suffered from addictions to alcohol and drugs, along with intergenerational trauma as result of the legacy of the residential school system, discrimination and colonization. She has three children from two long term relationships.

Ms. Wentzell has been attending programming at Holly House, which is run by the Elizabeth Fry Society. Ms. Wentzell has been engaging in individual addictions counselling. She has attended the Rising Sun Treatment Rehabilitation Centre on two occasions and has plans to attend again for the relapse prevention program. She has attempted to reduce her consumption of alcohol. Her plan going forward is to continue with counselling for addictions and healthy relationships. She also will be attending sweats on a regular basis and is working towards long term sober living. She would like to continue her education by attending the Nova Scotia Community College in a trades program and find part time employment.

Ms. Wentzell was involved in a volatile and abusive spousal relationship. The victim’s prior treatment, assaultive and degrading behaviour towards Ms. Wentzell along with her intoxication and impulsive reaction to the events must be taken into consideration. These events in addition, to Ms. Wentzell’s prior history of trauma and experiences of an Indigenous person, reduce her moral culpability in these offences.

The long-term protection of the community requires that Ms. Wentzell’s efforts be acknowledged and that she be allowed to continue on that path without interruption. It is hopeful that she will be able to show the community, by her example, that there is life beyond addiction and involvement in the Criminal Justice System. A suspended sentence with a significant period of probation was the reasonable alternative to incarceration in this case and is of significant consequence to Ms. Wentzell.

R v Brown, 2020 BCPC 137

The Court found the sentences in their aggregate to be unduly harsh and disproportionate. The sentences were adjusted to arrive at an appropriate global sentence that considered circumstances such as the defendant’s Indigenous heritage, hope of rehabilitation and his relatively young age.

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Mr. Brown, the defendant, is a 26-year old man who discharged a firearm in the hallways of a lodging house. He then went to a nearby house and struck a resident with the firearm. At the time of the incident, Mr. Brown was bound by a 10-year weapons prohibition, which prohibited him from possessing firearms. This prohibition was imposed after he had been sentenced for a drug offence three years prior. Mr. Brown pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm, unlawful possession of a restricted firearm, assault with a weapon and breach of a prohibition order. The Crown urged the Court to impose a global sentence of six and a half years, while counsel for Mr. Brown urged for a global sentence of five years.

The Court had the benefit of reading a Gladue report that was previously prepared for Mr. Brown for his earlier drug conviction. Findings in the report noted that many of the systemic background facts that impact Indigenous peoples in Canada have also impacted Mr. Brown, including substance abuse, criminal history, family breakdown, and racism. While the Court was able to recognize how these factors have contributed to Mr. Brown’s offences, these factors did not equate to an automatic reduction in sentence (R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688).

The case law clearly establishes that the risk posed by firearms demands a sentence that denounces and deters (R v Oud, 2016 BCCA 332; R v Guha, 2012 BCCA 423). The Court found that a fit sentence in this case must adequately meet the objectives of denunciation and deterrence, however, it must not lose sight of the importance of rehabilitation. Mr. Brown’s relatively young age and accessibility to Indigenous centered programs both within his community and through correctional institutions were taken into consideration. The Court found the sentences in their aggregate to be disproportionate and destructive to any hope of rehabilitation. As a result, the sentences were adjusted, and Mr. Brown received a sentence of 5 years 9 months.

R v GH, 2020 NUCJ 21

The Chief Justice of the Nunavut Court of Justice dismissed an application for a state-funded Gladue report. The Court cautioned that a Gladue report writer from outside the territory may not be adequately familiar with Nunavut’s unique circumstances and resources, and Inuit court workers can provide much of the necessary information, as can the predominately Inuit probation officers working in Nunavut. The Court left it to the Government of Nunavut to determine whether a program for full Gladue reports ought to be created. 

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The Applicant requests that the Court order the production of a Gladue report. He suggests that formal Gladue reports are necessary if this Court is to apply the remedial provisions of section 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code in the manner and spirit directed by the Supreme Court of Canada (R v Gladue, [1999] 2 CNLR 252 [“Gladue”]; R v Ipeelee, [2012] 2 CNLR 218).

In Canada, judges are required to consider the circumstances of Indigenous offenders who are before them to be sentenced. Indigenous offenders have the right (unless it is expressly waived) to the presentation of Gladue information and application of Gladue principles at their sentencing hearing. However, they do not have the right to the production of a publicly funded Gladue report in advance of sentencing.

In many jurisdictions across Canada there are Gladue programs in which independent and knowledgeable writers interview offenders and other community members, producing Gladue reports that educate sentencing judges. Nunavut is not one of those jurisdictions. To date, the Government of Nunavut has not implemented a program to connect Indigenous offenders with knowledgeable Gladue writers. Nothing formally prevents an offender in Nunavut from funding the production of a Gladue report privately, but this almost never occurs due to the associated cost.

Because Nunavut lacks a publicly funded Gladue writing program, Gladue information about Indigenous offenders in Nunavut usually comes before the court via Defence submissions, pre-sentence reports, and occasionally comments directly from offenders. Counsel for the Applicant argues that these sources of information are insufficient and that a Gladue writer would provide a qualitatively superior overview of the systemic factors that have played a role in bringing the offender before the court. Gladue writers are typically either members of the Indigenous communities in which they serve or they have strong social and professional connections to those communities. Because there is no Gladue writing program in Nunavut, there are no Gladue writers here with those same community connections that are so key for southern Gladue writers. Pre-sentence reports, however, are prepared by probation officers, many of them Inuit living in communities in which they serve.

Non-Inuit legal professionals in Nunavut are not without access to knowledgeable cultural and community resources. The Court will leave this discussion to more knowledgeable players within the Legal Services Board of Nunavut and the Government of Nunavut. The Court cautions against the assumption that a Gladue writer experienced in serving First Nations and Métis communities will easily translate those skills to an Inuit context. A pan-Indigenous approach to government programming is ineffective and does not meet the specific needs of Inuit. Recommendation 16.28 of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Final Report, notes that this failure to provide Inuit-specific services cripples Gladue principles.

When the Government of Nunavut implements a Gladue report writing program employing empathetic peers based in Nunavut communities as writers, the Court will be pleased to trust those report writers to fully enlighten the court. The colonial court system in Nunavut can only benefit from further and better cultural and historic information about the individuals who appear before it and will continue to rely on the expertise of Indigenous Court Workers, Inuit elders, resident counsel, and resident probation officers.