A Gladue report changed his life. Like many other marginalized offenders, he didn’t know it was his right
Blaine Hotomania’s Gladue report has more than reduced his time behind bars.
“It changed my life, my way of seeing things,” he said. “I have a big family and I want to teach my grandchildren not to drink and drive. I tell them about it.”
The Gladue Reports present the circumstances of a self-identified Aboriginal defendant’s life that a judge must consider when deciding on a sentence. These can include personal and community histories, and traumas such as colonialism and its ongoing impacts.
Even though the Gladue Reports are a right for every Indigenous person who appears in court – thanks to two court decisions in 1999 and 2012 – not everyone is aware of their right or has access to the writers of the Gladue Reports . Saskatchewan, in particular, ranks near the bottom in the country for using Gladue reports, according to data from the Aboriginal Legal Society, which intervened in the landmark 1999 case.
Gladue reports take a lot of time and resources, but at the end of 2020, the Integrated Justice Program (IJP), which is funded by Public Safety Canada, created a team of legal experts and people who study and work with people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. (FASD), entirely devoted to writing trial reports in Saskatchewan.
WATCH | What are Gladue reports?
Advocates say the editorial team is enabling more people to get the Gladue reports they are entitled to.
Hotomania, 57, of Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation – about 80 kilometers east of Regina – had at one point faced 18 months for impaired driving last spring. After his Gladue report, which presented factors including his FASD, Hotomania’s sentence was reduced to six months.
Over three days of three-hour interviews for his Gladue report, Hotomanie shared the pains he faced growing up. He suffered a lot of abuse as a child in a house where both his parents drank. He lost loved ones – especially his parents – and was in the residential school system.
It was only during his interviews with the IJP that Hotomania learned of the impact of these traumas on him.
Now, with an extensive support network of his wife, six children, 25 grandchildren, friends and Carry the Kettle executives, he is more worried about his future than his grief.
“I got all that out and I’m better. I have a job. I haven’t had a job in a long time,” he said.
“I’m kinda hoping I can salvage my job, but time will tell.”
Represent the most marginalized
The IJP was launched in 2019. It is a joint initiative of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network and the File Hills Tribal Council. The program focuses on comprehensive support for Aboriginal people with FASD in Saskatchewan.
IJP launched the team focused on writing in-depth Gladue reports in fall 2020.
Hotomania said he didn’t know what a Gladue report was until he met IJP’s Michelle Stewart and Robyn Pitawanakwat.
Stewart, an FASD expert, is the IJP project manager and Gladue project coordinator, while Pitawanakwat is the program coordinator, directs the organization’s frontline services and conducts Gladue interviews.
“They are often the most marginalized people within the justice system,” Pitawanakwat said.
“We work with them because their disability [FASD] is not understood, and their disability often makes them more vulnerable to charges, whereas someone else who presents differently would probably not be charged.”
Stewart, an associate professor at the University of Regina, said the initial goal was to work directly with people with FASD to ensure their complex needs were met.
“Our goal is to expand that circle of support for them, as we’re talking about individuals who experience compounded forms of marginalization and alienation,” Stewart said.
Stewart and Pitawanakwat said their work – building relationships to learn more about someone’s trauma, personal and family history, taking the time to understand those topics, and then preparing the reports – is an effort at reconciliation in within the Saskatchewan court system.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 34th Call to Action asks governments “to make changes to the criminal justice system to improve outcomes for offenders with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)”.
Pitawanakwat said IJP editors provide the courts with important context. Many of those interviewed were separated from their families and peers, Pitawanakwat said.
“One of the most effective ways to fight colonialism is to reunite families; to bring people home and keep them home whenever possible,” Pitawanakwat said.
Hotomania’s report did just that, allowing him to stay in Carry the Kettle a bit longer before being incarcerated. He will also be able to reconnect with his family sooner, because of the reduced sentence that the judge granted him after reading the report.
Program work is greatly needed
The IJP team completed more than 30 Gladue reports or pre-sentence reports in Saskatchewan as of January 2022, Stewart and Pitawanakwat said.
Gladue reports can take weeks or even months due to resource constraints within the court system. IJP’s team approach has significantly reduced turnaround times in Saskatchewan, where the need for the program is great.
The province ranks near the bottom when it comes to the use of Gladue reports in court, said Jonathan Rudin, program director of Indigenous Legal Services.
“In most parts of Canada where there are Gladue reports, the provincial government in particular, or the provincial legal aid plan, is stepping up funding,” Rudin said.
“In Saskatchewan, the provincial government does not seem at all inclined to provide this funding.”
Data provided by the Department of Justice showed the provincial government paid a total of $78,080 for 24 Gladue reports over the past five years. These data do not include reports from independent agencies such as the IJP.
In the 2019-20 reporting year – the last time the province covered the costs of Gladue reports – the government paid for two reports. In the 2018-19 reporting year, it paid 10, the highest of the five years of data provided.
In the 2020-2021 reference year, it paid none.
Rudin said that, aside from the IJP reports, the few instances where Gladue reports were written in the province were mostly privately funded. In only a few cases have the courts been asked to provide the money or ordered the government to provide the money.
Government support needed, says expert
Jane Dickson, who trained Stewart to write Gladue and is currently a law professor at Carleton University, said it shouldn’t be necessary to have independent agencies to write Gladue reports because the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that every Aboriginal person should receive one.
“If the government stepped in and funded Gladue adequately, we wouldn’t need to come up with these creative solutions to get funding,” Dickson said.
She said that in Saskatchewan and many other parts of Canada, the courts decide for themselves whether or not they have the right amount of information to determine a person’s fate.
In Saskatchewan, the Department of Justice said courts have committed to using “relevant Gladue information” in pre-sentence reports completed by community corrections staff, such as parole officers.
“Community Corrections has made a concerted effort to increase awareness of Gladue factors and provide Gladue information in pre-sentence reports,” the ministry statement said.
Dickson said legal professionals would prefer to see full Gladue reports like those written by the IJP, but there is too much demand. She works with organizations across Canada on a team approach like what the IJP does in Regina.
“The model is absolutely generalizable across the country,” Dickson said.
A success, so far
Pitawanakwat said while some of IJP’s reports were more beneficial than others, the program has been successful so far because those involved feel supported in their work.
More importantly, Pitawanakwat said clients involved in the program seemed to think the process was good for them, and judges seemed to recognize that the reports were well-researched and well-written.
Hotomanie said he felt comfortable during the interview process. When things got tough and he got emotional, the band hit pause and agreed to continue the next day when they felt better.
He also felt like he got to know Pitawanakwat and Stewart through the process as much as they got to know him.
The final report made him feel understood by the courts in a way the justice system never had.
“I wasn’t just a person who got caught impaired [driving]I felt good about myself,” Hotomanie said.
“It made a difference in me and in my life.”