This section outlines possible course of actions to remedy the over incarceration of Aboriginal people through a reform of Aboriginal sentencing. In all circumstances, it is suggested that the government should at least enact an exception to mandatory minimum sentences for Aboriginal people if the circumstances warrants it in order to fully allow sentencing judge to implement s 718.2(2) of the Criminal Code. It is also suggested that a reform of Aboriginal sentencing should be accompanied with other socio-economic measures to properly deal with the over incarceration of Aboriginal people. More importantly, I acknowledge the fact that I am not Aboriginal and do not speak in Aboriginal people’s name. In the end effective and long-lasting solution will have to emanate and/or receive the accent of Aboriginal people in order to be legitimate and to further decolonisation goals.
As succinctly demonstrated, Aboriginal over incarceration is a complex problem with various consequences on our society. Part of the problem and solution comes from the Canadian sentencing regime. Before exploring how the regime could be modify in hope of diminishing over incarceration, it is important to understand how it currently works. Sentencing is the last step of the criminal justice process and happens after a finding of guilt by a trial court or a plea of guilt. When the accused pleads guilty as the result of a plea bargain, there is often a joint submission by the defense and the Crown on the appropriate sentence. If not, there is a sentencing hearing where a judge determines the appropriate sentence after hearing both parties. Both parties can appeal the sentence to a court of appeal if the sentence was not predetermined by law, such as for murder where a sentence of life imprisonment is mandatory. Sentencing courts hold a lot of discretion when determining sentences, and are usually limited by only a maximum sentence and in certain cases a minimum sentence or a mandatory sentence. Judges are however not completely free to determine a sentence as they must follow broad sentencing principles as established first by common law and subsequently codified in the Criminal Code. The overarching principle of sentencing is proportionality, meaning that a “sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.” Other principles include the consideration of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, sentences should be similar for similar crime in similar circumstances, and the least restrictive appropriate sentence should be impose. Sentences should also fulfil the following goal: denounce unlawful conduct; deter the offender and other persons from committing offences; separate offenders from society, where necessary; assist in rehabilitating offenders; provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims and to the community.
This is a three part series based on a paper I wrote not long ago. The style is more academic and the citation less user friendly, but I thought it was a nice follow up on last week post and it gives me a break during my vacation. Here is Part I:
Canada’s relationship with its Aboriginal population is bleak to say the least. Allies to the colonial powers at first, the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada quickly became outcasts as they were progressively pushed into reserves and their land “acquired” through a series of treaties. As they lost their military usefulness, the British government followed by the Canadian federal government started a policy of assimilation of Aboriginal peoples mainly through the Indian Act by effectively making them “wards of the crown”. The prohibition of Aboriginal ceremonies, diminished legal rights, and forcing children to attend residential schools were only a few of the “tools” of Canada’s assimilation policy. Since the 1970s, Aboriginal Peoples have started militating in order to obtain self-government, recognition of their ancestral and human rights, compensation for past wrongs and international recognition amongst other things. Nevertheless, Canada’s assimilationist policy had and continues to have an enduring effect on Aboriginal peoples who now have high level of poverty, alcoholism, unemployment, and low level of sanitation, education, housing, etc.
A few days ago, I read a comment on twitter referring to the Zimmerman case in the US (involving the alleged murder of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, by a Latino man who followed him during is “neighbourhood patrol” because he looked “suspicious”) affirming that the legal problem with this case was how the statute was written and not racism per se stating that law is neutral and cannot be racist (the tweet was posted before Zimmerman’s acquittal; I wonder if the person feels different now). I don’t know how the Florida Criminal Code is written and I don’t actually need to know how it is written to affirm that the law is not neutral nor is the justice system. And as Zimmerman’s acquittal shows, “Justice” is not blind.