Aboriginal people are not going to jail as often these days, but that does not mean we are committing less crime.
It stems back to the Jamie Gladue case that was heard before the Supreme Court in 1999. Her defence lawyer argued that an offender’s Aboriginal background should be taken into consideration during trial.
Gladue pled guilty to manslaughter in the stabbing death of her boyfriend and received a three-year sentence in a lower court.
Her sentence was later upheld by the Supreme Court, but it recognized that the lower court did not take into account her Aboriginal background and thus, set precedent for all future cases.
The judgment was hailed, in part, as a way to lower the overwhelming number of Aboriginal inmates in jails across Canada, but instead it has created a deep divide in Native communities, especially the isolated ones.
Sentencing judges are now required to give special consideration based on the backgrounds of Aboriginal offenders, and to consider sentences that are “appropriate” to their cultures and communities such as healing circles and sweats.
We all know that the justice system has been unjust and unfair for many years to Aboriginals who used to be arrested for something as ridiculous as drinking at an off-reserve bar.
We were also routinely detained and our civil liberties violated for being drunk and disorderly in public and thrown in a cell overnight without representation or, in many cases, a valid reason for the arrest.
Our rights were constantly abused and we had nowhere to turn. We were left without a voice in our own lands.
Things have changed, but not necessarily for the better.
In places like Mistissini and Chisasibi there are violent offenders roaming the streets thanks to the Gladue case. Victims fear something as simple as going to the Northern or Meechum to buy groceries, knowing that at any time they could run into the person who sexually abused them just a few days prior.
Which brings us to the case of 33-year-old Davin Johnny, an Aboriginal man accused of jumping on a police car and throwing a brick through a cruiser’s window in the aftermath of the Montreal Canadiens win over the Boston Bruins in game seven to close out the National Hockey League series on April 21.
He admitted in court that he hated cops and would do it again. As a result he was handed a slap on the wrist by Judge Juanita Westmoreland-Traore to the tune of a 10 PM curfew. He also has to stay away from the Montreal Bell Centre.
Justice has now swung over to the other side, allowing Aboriginal offenders to get away with crimes other people would be thrown in jail for.
The message, from people like Kahnawake Grand Chief Mike Delisle, is that it is wrong. He told the media that he did not agree with the ruling as “we shouldn’t be held to lesser standards than anyone else.”
The Nation could not agree more.
Offenders cannot just do whatever they want and then hide behind the abuse they suffered as a child as an excuse. It is weak and it takes the responsibility away from them.
Granted a lot of people in our communities have dealt with horrible incidents that average Canadians have not, but there comes a time in our lives where we have to start looking in the mirror.
Giving people like Johnny a pass on incidents like this demonstrates to him and others like him that there are no consequences. Like a child who is not disciplined for hitting another child, rest assured those who go unpunished will do it again.
It is time for us to bring back the principles that got us here today: honour, pride and respect. Without these values our societies would be lawless and misguided.
If you see a child causing trouble, discipline him. If we let our kids get away with too much for too long, they could grow up to be just like Johnny.