Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Aboriginal Whisperer?

“Judges ordered to consider cultural factors in sentencing native offenders.”

So read the headline published in the GLOBE AND MAIL, dated March 24, 2012 and written by a Kirk Makin.

Those of you who watch “The Dog Whisperer” on TV will know the star of the show, Cesar Milan and his slogan, “I train people and I rehabilitate dogs.” His show is a huge success; thanks to his techniques used. One can see how fast Cesar can change a dog’s unbalanced behaviour; in fact, within minutes. He has said that dogs are able to not dwell on the past but move forward very quickly.  Simple-minded? Apparently, not so with humans.

Consider the past treatment of Canada’s native offenders who, as a result, may be living too much in the past.

“When sentencing an aboriginal offender, courts must take judicial notice of such matters as the history of colonialism, displacement, and residential schools and how that history continues to translate into lower educational attainment, lower incomes, higher unemployment, higher rates of substance abuse and suicide, and of course, higher levels of incarceration for aboriginal peoples” says Judge LeBel when he had referred to the application of the Gladue report.

In a 1998 court decision, Regina v. Gladue, that case mandated distinctive treatment for aboriginal offenders based on sensitivity to their history, i.e. the oppressive cultural conditions many have grown up with.

The above noted article also referred to the sentencing of two aboriginal offenders who have had alcohol problems, a history of thefts, sexual assaults, and residential school experience full of physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse.

The issue of colonialism and assimilation of Canada’s Aboriginal people has gained more exposure lately; first with Prime Minister Harper's 2008 apology for the past abuses of the residential school system and now, with the process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Furthermore, Canada has recognized the need  to address the past experiences by Survivors of residential schools with the Independent Assessment Process where individuals can link current behaviour with their abusive past  and ultimately be compensated.

Fortunately, the court system is willing to look to the past and start to understand the reasons for the high rates of incarceration of Aboriginal people.

Ultimately, in the spirit of healing, one would like a mind of a dog. Too simple.