Aboriginal Offenders: Lost in Legislation

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In British Columbia, and across Canada, we pride ourselves in being known as multicultural, diverse, and tolerant. In particular, we encourage the celebration of our Aboriginal peoples’ heritage and culture – an ideation that has deep roots in our history. The issues surrounding the treatment our First Nations’ peoples are as delicate as they are primary; although we have made great strides over the past decade, we still have a long way to go before we declare success. An area that is often over looked by the general public, however, is how Aboriginal people are handled in our Judiciary system.

For example, Aboriginal people account for approximately 2.8% of the entireCanadian population – a fairly small percentage. Therefore it may be surprising to learn that they account for a whopping 18% of Canada’s federal inmates (according to the Correctional Service of Canada (“CSC”)). The CSC has stated that they are committed to developing a National Strategy that will specifically target the unique considerations that must be taken when dealing with Aboriginal offenders. They place specific importance on interventions for these offenders by developing and implementing care strategies for individuals suffering from substance abuse, and other addiction issues. Unfortunately, this likely means removing individuals from homes on reserves, which are often located in remote communities, without the resources to deal with the serious medical issues that accompany substance abuse problems. It is also an idea that is met with resistance from the First Nation’s people, which is understandable.

The lack of ways and means to address addiction issues early on often leads to “intervention” (i.e. the arrest and detainment of an Aboriginal offender) at the point where there is little that can be done – other than to have the individual slowly manoeuvre their way through our ever-clogged Court system.  It is in our sophisticated and couth judicial system, that the unique needs of the Aboriginal offender are often neglected.

So by this point you’re probably wondering what justice-specific initiatives our Government is taking in order to properly deal with this issue. Well, there were a couple of legislative actions taken back in the 90’s, a few Directives from various commissions, and even an Annex or two. But it seems pretty obvious that these attempts can’t be labelled as anything other than futile.

Probably, though, the most noteworthy stride made by the Canadian Government towards respectfully handling the issue of Aboriginal offenders in our penal system, is the creation of Gladue Court.

Essentially, if you meet the specific requirements (Aboriginal Heritage being key, among others) you can have your case directed to Gladue Court, where the sentencing Judge will take into consideration the specific and unique circumstances of you being Aboriginal (discrimination, residential schools, etc).

The name of the Court is derived from the landmark 1999 Supreme Court of Canada case known as R. v. GladueThe main principle of the case is that other reasonable alternatives should always be considered prior to a custodial (jail) sentence. This could mean serving a sentence in the community, counselling, and rehabilitation in relation to drugs and alcohol abuse. If the sentencing Judge determines that a jail term is necessary due to public interest, he or she must still take the sentencing provisions of Gladue into account, which could result in a lighter custodial sentence.

There are a few flaws, though. One major pitfall is that an individual cannot be considered for Gladue Court if they are in custody. If you’ve been detained without Bail, or can’t obtain the necessary resources to make Bail, you’re considered ineligible. Another disadvantage is that the principles of Gladue are still improperly applied in many instances. It isn’t a system that is necessarily taken advantage of by those who may benefit from it, simply due to a lack of knowledge surrounding its existence.

We are fortunate enough to have a Gladue Court in Vancouver, British Columbia, which is available to residents in Richmond, New Westminster, Surrey, Delta, and so on. There are several other Gladue Courts located in Eastern Canada, for example, in Toronto, Ontario. It is likely that this Court will expand as the demand grows for services – and the demand can only grow, the system can only flourish, through knowledge and education.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence and would like to know if you meet the necessary prerequisites to be considered for Gladue Court, it is important to have an experienced and seasoned criminal defence lawyer there to assist with the process. Please do not hesitate to contact us at Tarnow and Company where we are proud to offer extensive knowledge surrounding Gladue Court procedures.

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David Tarnow argues attempted murder case in the Yukon Territory

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As mentioned in previous posts on our site, David Tarnow is qualified to engage in the practice of law in the Territory of the Yukon. Over the past year, Mr. Tarnow has successfully argued a number of cases in the Territorial Court. More often than not, the cases have either resulted in an acquittal of the Accused, or have been resolved by way of a Stay of Proceedings – both of which are optimal results for the Defence in any criminal case.

Since the beginning of September 2013, Mr. Tarnow has been conducting a Jury Trial in Yukon’s Supreme Court, in which our client has been charged with the Attempted Murder of a Police Officer. It goes without saying that this charge is one of most serious offences in the Criminal Code of Canada. The Whitehorse Star, a local paper inWhitehorse, Yukon, released an article surrounding the circumstances of the alleged offence and the Trial, and can be read here:

http://www.whitehorsestar.com/archive/story/lawyer-renews-his-suspicions-of-investigations-handling/

The Jury is expected to begin their deliberations shortly. Make sure to check back to our site to keep up to date with the outcome of the case.

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Stricter medical marijuana regulations reignite debate among Canadians

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The details of the new medical marijuana regulations are out – and soon, so should the supplies from home growers. Authorities say that the stricter rules are put in place to protect public safety, but the growing public confusion and differing opinions seem to be working against the Canadian government’s plans.

Rolled out on June 10th and officially published on June 12th in the Canada Gazette, the new regulations no longer allow medical marijuana users to grow their own plants at home. The federal government will also cease the production and distribution of the substance, leaving only licensed growers as the only source for medical marijuana users. Jeffrey Reisman, a well-known criminal lawyer in Toronto explains that one of the main factors that prompted the change in laws was that home growing was creating a lot of neighborhood crime. “In some cases we have organized crime operating grow ups, or targeting legal grow ups to steal product, which compromises the safety in a community”, says Reisman.

Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq said in a statement that the stricter regulations will be imposed to “protect public safety” and “strengthen the safety of Canadian communities.” Health Canada backed Aglukkaq’s argument, claiming that letting individuals grow their own marijuana since the Marijuana Medical Access Program began about 12 years ago has affected public health, safety and security. Within this period, authorized medical marijuana users ballooned to 30,000 from the original 500, according to the department.

Apart from producing more marijuana than they can use, some growers have allegedly abused the program by selling illegally or causing fire and flood hazards due to unregulated operations. More serious threats include theft and other criminal acts that have been spurred by uncontrolled production and distribution of the product.

Meanwhile, the issue has also reignited a wider clamor to loosen Canada’s marijuana laws in general, with nearly 70 percent of polled individuals supporting marijuana legalization – or at least decriminalization of possession of small amounts. According to Forum Research, which gathered the opinion of more than 1,000 Canadians age 18 and older, only 15 percent think that marijuana regulations should remain unchanged, while 13 percent are in favor of even stricter penalties.

Another sector that has been vocal even before the medical marijuana program was launched is the medical community, which has reiterated time and again that there is not enough evidence of marijuana’s medical benefits.

Some politicians were also not spared in the crossfire. Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, in particular, earned mixed reactions when he professed not only his position in favor of legalizing marijuana – but also the fact that he had smoked marijuana at a dinner party. Roughly five years ago, Trudeau strongly opposed even just marijuana decriminalization.

Such “transformations” and developments are prompting even more people – politicians and average citizens alike – to speak out about the issue. While many eagerly await which side will prevail in the end, some observers are content enough seeing that marijuana laws are getting deeper, much more serious attention than ever.

Jeffrey Reisman is a well-respected Toronto Criminal lawyer, who focuses on all areas of criminal defence including assault cases, fraud, arson, burglary, murder and more. He is also an experienced bail hearing lawyer in Toronto

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Legal Aid Crisis in British Columbia

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The Legal Aid crisis in B.C. is set to peak in early 2014, and criminal lawyers across the Province are preparing to halt services between the dates of February 17th, and March 30th of 2014. This means that Trials for offences ranging from impaired driving, shoplifting, assault, murder, you name it, that are currently scheduled for that time period, will be adjourned to later dates. What could cause such chaos and delay in our Court system? You guessed it – Provincial Government funding cuts. And it isn’t just a small percentage that lawyers would see taken off of their earnings during February and March – they wouldn’t be getting paid. At all.

The legal aid system in B.C. has taken blow after blow over the last 10 years, making it increasingly difficult for those with a low income to have access to sound legal advice. After the Legal Services Society recently announced that the criminal tariff faced a $2.5 million dollar deficit (driven by Stephen Harper’s new Safe Streets and Communities Act I might add, along with other Federal political initiatives), they declared that they had no choice but to deny lawyers payment for their services in the aforementioned time frame.

This is a serious issue. Our Court system is already severely backlogged, and this 6 week long hiatus is only going to going to cause catastrophic scheduling conflicts.  Those scheduling conflicts could lead to the frailties in the administration of justice in our Province.

While the Legal Services Society is still set to meet with the Attorney General of B.C. to discuss these ever-growing problems, we are unlikely to see a resolution in the near future. Where there is no money in the budget, there can be no service provided.

Legal Aid is an essential component of our justice system; it protects the most vulnerable in our society. It is clear that British Columbia’s Provincial government doesn’t have societies best interests in mind, and shows no signs of having a change of heart.

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