Monday, May 16, 2016

Failure to consider Aboriginal heritage an error regardless of distance from heritage

R. v. Kreko, 2016 ONCA 367:

[18]        Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code requires consideration of the principles of sentencing, including the following principle:

(e) all available sanctions, other than imprisonment, that are reasonable in the circumstances and consistent with the harm done to victims or to the community should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders.

[19]        As observed in R. v. Gladue, [1999] 1 S.C.R. 688, at para. 93(3), s. 718.2(e) is remedial in nature: it is intended to ameliorate the serious problem of overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in prisons. 

[20]        The sentencing judge erred by effectively requiring a causal link between the appellant's Aboriginal heritage and the offences, as is illustrated by the following extracts from his reasons for sentence and report to the Court of Appeal:

·       "There was nothing tied to his Aboriginal genetic heritage, let alone considerations in Gladue and Ipeelee, that led the accused, Mr. Kreko, to the negative side of hip-hop, including its fascination with guns."

·       "These things [possession of a gun, driving a Jaguar] relate to gang culture and do not relate to his Aboriginal background."

·       "It appeared to me that his Aboriginal connection had been irrelevant to his offences, or how he got there." 

·       "I ultimately held that his Aboriginal heritage could not be linked in any meaningful way to these current offences, although his hip-hop affiliations could."  

[21]        The jurisprudence makes it clear that no causal link is required. In R. v. Ipeelee, 2012 SCC 13, [2012] 1 S.C.R. 433, the Supreme Court held that it was an error to require an Aboriginal offender to establish a causal link between his or her background factors and the commission of the offence(s) in question before he or she is entitled to have those factors considered by the sentencing judge. The court suggested, at para. 82, that requiring a causal connection demonstrated "an inadequate understanding of the devastating intergenerational effects of the collective experiences of Aboriginal peoples", and also imposed an evidentiary burden on the offender that was not intended by Gladue

[22]        The court continued, at para. 83:

[I]t would be extremely difficult for an Aboriginal offender to ever establish a direct causal link between his circumstances and his offending. The interconnections are simply too complex. The Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba describes the issue, at p. 86: 

Cultural oppression, social inequality, the loss of self-government and systemic discrimination, which are the legacy of the Canadian government's treatment of Aboriginal people, are intertwined and interdependent factors, and in very few cases is it possible to draw a simple and direct correlation between any one of them and the events which lead an individual Aboriginal person to commit a crime or to become incarcerated. 

Furthermore, the operation of s. 718.2(e) does not logically require such a connection. Systemic and background factors do not operate as an excuse or justification for the criminal conduct. Rather, they provide the necessary context to enable a judge to determine an appropriate sentence.  

[23]        The court explained that what is required is that the factors must be tied to the particular offender and offence(s) in that they must bear on his or her culpability or indicate which types of sanctions may be appropriate in order to effectively achieve the objectives of sentencing. Finally, the court in Ipeelee also made it clear that s. 718.2(e) applies to serious offences: see paras. 84-86. 

[24]        In the present case, the appellant's dislocation and loss of identity can be traced to systemic disadvantage and impoverishment extending back to his great-grandparents. This was relevant to his moral blameworthiness for the offences. The intervener has referred to some studies suggesting that adoptions of Aboriginal children by non-Aboriginal parents have a significantly higher failure rate than other adoptions. The appellant's Aboriginal heritage was unquestionably part of the context underlying the offences. The sentencing judge erred by failing to consider the intergenerational, systemic factors that were part of the appellant's background, and which bore on his moral blameworthiness, and by seeking instead to establish a causal link between his Aboriginal heritage and the offences.

[25]        The sentencing judge also misapprehended the evidence about the appellant's efforts to reconnect with his heritage:

I applaud any efforts by Mr. Kreko to put down any pro-social roots he can, and that includes the Aboriginal healing path in which he has dabbled to date. I note he did not participate in that path while at the Central East Correctional Centre. [Emphasis added.]

Of the Law Societies of Upper Canada and Nunavut 

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