The Ontario Court of Justice in Brantford was packed Tuesday morning as the new Aboriginal Persons’ Court (APC) held their open ceremonies. The APC is meant for First Nations people going through the criminal justice system in Brant County and who are also facing a term of incarceration. A Gladue Report, which is done by a Gladue Caseworker, will take certain factors into consideration when the judge determines the length of the sentence. Some factors include: history of physical or sexual abuse, history of family violence and whether or not a relative attended a residential school.
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Program Director of Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, Jonathan Rudin stood in front of the packed courtroom and spoke of the symbolism and importance of the APC in Brantford. Rudin described the long process of getting this specialty court to Brantford and said the attempt began back in 2003, “after the inquest into the death of Benjamin Mitten while in (Brantford) police custody.” Rudin stated that this is when the real journey began to bring something to Brantford; something designed to meet the needs of First Nations people who go through the criminal justice system.
The first Gladue Court was opened in Toronto back in October of 2001. The name Gladue itself refers to the case, R. v. Gladue. In 1995, Jamie Gladue a Cree woman from British Columbia stabbed to death her common law partner during a night of heavy drinking, after she learned he was having an affair with her older sister.
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Although Gladue’s appeal was denied, the case set precedence for future cases. The Supreme Court ruled that the original trial judge erred in not taking into consideration the offenders ‘aboriginal background’ when deciding her prison sentence.
Six Nations Elected Council Chief, Ava Hill congratulated Justice Edwards, who spearheaded the initiative to bring an Indigenous ‘specialty court’ to Brantford. She was especially pleased with how they included the Six Nations community in the decision-making process. The key, Hill believes, is through using education as a tool for change.
The new APC can be used as a way to educate Canadian society about the history of colonialism that First Nations peoples have suffered in the past and how indigenous people continue to feel it’s residual effects today. Speaking on the residential school system, Hill says, “The toll it has had on our people has resulted in the social problems we have today.”
Motivational Speaker and Cree warrior, Earl Lambert moved the crowd when he gave a personal account of his life and how he managed to overcome barriers in order to start his healing journey. Lambert spoke of his own involvement with the criminal justice system at a young age. Having experienced domestic violence, physical and psychological abuse as a child, Lambert spent part of his life in and out of youth and adult correctional facilities.
Lambert first began to realize that criminal life was not for him after the birth of his first son but soon after, relapsed again. Lambert finally decided that he wanted to better himself, if not for himself then for his young family. He said his, “internal motivator was to heal and external motivator was not to go back to jail”.
Lambert had a Gladue Report done during his final encounter with the law many years ago and said he never realized the impact that his tragic life experiences as a child had had on his current life circumstances.
In Lambert’s healing journey, he engaged with his traditional culture: attending teachings and participating in the sweat lodge.
The Aboriginal Persons’ Court officially begins hearing cases on January 17.