Legal Aid Ont. funding expands Gladue services to four new locations

TORONTO—Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is providing funding to Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto (ALST) for four additional Gladue report writers. ALST, a leader in Gladue services, will receive $467,376 enabling the ALST to expand its Gladue report-writing program to Windsor, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay. The additional Gladue writers will bring the ALST complement to a total of 13 writers across the province. Manitoulin Island has its own Gladue writer based at the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnissing (UCCMM).

Gladue writers prepare reports for First Nation, Métis and Inuit accused at the request of defence counsel, Crown attorneys or judges at the sentencing stage of criminal matters. Gladue refers to a right that aboriginal people have under section 718.2 (e) of the Criminal Code and stems from the landmark Supreme Court case R vs Gladue, (1999).

Based on the content of the report, the judge considers all alternatives to incarceration including restorative justice programs, youth intervention programs, substance abuse treatment or counselling sessions with elders. This allows judges to formulate sentences that focus on healing and helping offenders within their community, while addressing the over-incarceration of Aboriginal people in Ontario. The Gladue reports are a response to a Supreme Court decision.

“This new investment will help to serve aboriginal clients better,” said John McCamus, Legal Aid Ontario chair, in a release. “Improving access to Gladue services is an important aspect of Legal Aid Ontario’s aboriginal Justice Strategy. We’re very pleased that this funding from LAO will allow us to provide Gladue reports in Sudbury, Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay. We know the need for this service is there, because we have heard this from judges, lawyers and aboriginal accused persons themselves. The funding fills a big gap in the provision of Gladue services in Ontario.”

“This will help take some of the pressure off the UCCMM Gladue program. It is long overdue,” agreed M’Chigeeng Lawyer Susan Hare. “Gladue reports are an immeasurable asset to the judges in making their sentencing decisions.”

“It really is great news for the North,” said Sudbury LAO lawyer Alain Prevost. “Fortunately, the Island writer was able to assist with requests from Sudbury.” Mr. Prevost said that having the writers based across the North will greatly facilitate meeting demand with local knowledge.

Mr. Prevost noted that the contract postings are “for at least a year,” but that it is hoped the funding will be available to continue the program beyond that initial year. Mr. Prevost added that the specialized writers will be a great improvement on lawyers writing reports on their clients behalf. “They may not be aware of resources that are available in the community,” he said.

Ms. Hare explained that the Gladue reports highlight the systemic factors that may have brought an aboriginal person before the court. Some of those factors include impacts of residential school, child welfare involvement, dislocation, substance abuse and discrimination. The reports also provide information about available community-based rehabilitation that may be culturally appropriate. Each report is unique, as it reflects that aboriginal person’s life experience.

“They provide perspective to a person’s life,” said Ms. Hare. Among the examples she provided was the all too common situation where an aboriginal person is facing incarceration due to ignoring court orders. “That person may have faced abuse at the hands of people who were in authority over them, leaving them with a lack of respect for people in authority—those are the people who abused them.”

Jonathan Rudin of the ALST in Toronto is probably Canada’s foremost expert on Gladue reports, having set up and designed the first reports following the Supreme Court decision that recognized the need for the reports. “We operate as a friend of the court,” said Mr. Rudin, noting that neither the prosecution nor the defense gets to look at the reports first. “We have to have the respect of both sides in order to be effective.”

According to the employment advertisement on the ALST website, successful applicants to become one of the new Gladue writers will have “excellent writing skills, be able to interview people easily and be prepared to present information to the court under oath.  The Caseworker must be able to work independently and to work on a number of files and reports simultaneously. Knowledge of how the criminal justice system operates is an important aspect of this work. Knowledge of the programs and services available to aboriginal people in the community is a great asset. Familiarity with word processing is essential.”

Mr. Rudin noted, however, that there is really no set profile for a Gladue report writer. “What is most important is a good ability to talk to a wide range of people,” he said. The Gladue reports delve into very touchy subjects, including sexual and physical abuse, family circumstances and upbringing. Getting people who have been mistreated and abused, often by people in authority, takes a great deal of empathy and patience.

“There is no place you can go to learn to do that effectively,” said Mr. Rudin. “We train our counsellors ourselves.” That training includes a couple of days training in legal skills and how reports are written. Applicants are started out slowly, first with one request that the writer works on.

“We review all reports before they go out,” said Mr. Rudin. “We have a good support system of experienced writers, they are actually joining a large body of existing writers that they can talk to for support.”

The new Gladue writers will most likely come from the communities in which they will be working, noted Mr. Rudin.

Applications with a cover letter can be submitted by Friday, March 20, 2015 by 4 pm to

Edith Moore, manager of Human Resources, Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto Inc., 415 Yonge Street, Suite 803, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 2E7, faxed to 416-408-4268 or by email to edith@aboriginallegal.ca.