The Andrew Philipsen Law Center in downtown Whitehorse (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file) Kathy Magun still thinks of her father often.
A Kaska elder who lived in Watson Lake, Olson Wolftail, 87, had a quiet, gentle demeanor that belied the decades of pain he endured — the racism he faced as an Indigenous man who spoke no English, of having his eight children snatched away to be placed in residential school and, later, raising the children on his own, wearing down his body working long hours at a sawmill to make ends meet.
And yet, he remained strong and loving, holding on to Kaska traditions and knowledge that he passed down to his children and, eventually, grandchildren.
Wolftail was a rock in his family and community, much respected and much loved.
But these days, Magun said, memories of her father are intertwined with the horrific images of how his life came to an end — he was beaten to death, in his own home, in 2016 by someone who wasn’t even supposed to be in Watson Lake at the time.
Alfred Chief Jr., originally charged with second-degree murder, later pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter last year.
He was sentenced to four years and seven-and-a-half months in jail, a sentence Magun feels does not do her father justice.
And she pins the blame for what she sees as an overly lax sentence mainly on one thing — Chief, who is also Kaska, had a Gladue report done.
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Gladue reports have been a tricky topic since the Supreme Court of Canada issued its landmark decision, R v. Gladue , in 1999.
Gladue’s namesake is a Cree woman, Jamie Tanis Gladue, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter for killing her fiancé. The judge determined because the couple had lived off-reserve, Gladue was not entitled to special consideration as an aboriginal offender.
Gladue eventually took her case to the Supreme Court of Canada. While a panel judges found her sentence of three years to be fair, they used their decision to clarify that all Indigenous offenders, regardless of where they reside, are entitled to special consideration during sentencing, something that’s crucial for addressing the over-representation of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons.
The method of putting together Gladue reports varies between jurisdictions. Typically, a writer will interview the offender, their family members and other people in the community to identify the offender’s personal circumstances as well as systemic issues — for example, the intergenerational trauma inflicted by residential schools or the ’60s Scoop — that may have contributed to how and why the offender committed a crime.
In legal terms, the reports help define offenders’ moral culpability, Yukon Crown attorney Noel Sinclair explained — it is, in a way, society acknowledging responsibility for the harm state policies and actions have had on Indigenous people.
“The Gladue process … is really designed around giving the court information about the offender’s community and things that happened in that community that might diminish the offender’s moral responsibility for what they’ve done, for the crime that they’ve committed,” he said.
The reports also look at alternatives to incarceration, such as programs, community supports and restorative justice initiatives to help with rehabilitation.A stumbling block for some Indigenous victims of crime, though, is the fact that often, they too have experienced the same kinds of pain as the offenders.“My parents went to residential school too,” goes a common lament heard in courthouse lobbies, “but I’ve never killed anybody.”* * *Like Magun, April Baker didn’t know much about the criminal justice system until the worst happened — her son, 18-year-old Raine Silas, died in 2016 hours after being smashed in the head […]
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