APTN National News
OTTAWA – Dan Parlow has lived more days locked up than as a free man.
Of his 50 years, he says nearly 30 of them have been behind bars.
Before he did his first “bit” in jail he was already part of the system.
At three months old, Parlow was taken from his Aboriginal mother.
A victim of the 60s Scoop.
Abused by his “guardians” and spit out, he turned to a life of crime – guns, robberies, assaults.
He says he never had a real connection to his culture.
But that life of crime was the river and this is the sea.
Not too long after walking out of Warkworth Institution in 2013 he walked into Carleton University.
Parlow is a second-year criminology student at Carleton.
It’s his last chance in life and he knows it.
“I’ve been told throughout my life that I was no good, I wouldn’t amount to something, I was dumb. When I came to Carleton that wasn’t the case. They were telling me the opposite message,” said Parlow.
He’s thrived in university.
Not only in getting straight A’s.
But at getting the attention of his professors, including one law professor.
It was a chance encounter.
“One of my colleges was walking down the hall with Dan and she introduced me to Dan,” said Jane Dickson. “We chatted briefly and he told me he’d done a couple of federal bits and he’d had some trouble. I said ‘Wow. Now you’re at university.”’
Parlow told Dickson being at school was the best thing that ever happened to him.
She asked him if he had a job, he didn’t, but soon he would.
It turned out professor Dickson also moonlights as a Gladue writer in Ottawa.
She co-founded IndiGenius, a company dedicated to writing Gladue reports for Aboriginal offenders.
Dickson thought Parlow would be a decent fit for the company as he’d be able to connect to offenders standing in the same shoes he once wore.
It was a walk he was all too familiar with.
But as much as this story is about his past it’s more about the steps he’s taking now.
“When I tell them my story (to clients), I give that personal touch to it, I often find the client opens up and tell me things they wouldn’t tell anyone else,” said Parlow.
A Gladue report is all about their story.
It’s meant to tell a judge about an offender’s past.
Quite often judges learn of the trauma due to colonization passed through generations.
Colonization was a long walk in and it’s going to be a long walk out.
And that history is why Gladue reports are crucial in figuring out what may have led an Aboriginal offender before the courts.
“I think with the Gladue report we’re just bringing things to the surface and trying to light a fire under the justice system to show them that the issue’s our people are having are there,” said Mark Marsolais who founded IndiGenius with Dickson about seven months ago in Ottawa. “I mean the whole point of a Gladue is an opportunity for change and sharing with the court system that you’re peeling back the layers from a charge sheet and showing them underneath what the person is about.”
The phones at IndiGenius have been ringing off the hook since then.
There were no fulltime Gladue writers in Ottawa before they came along last year. In fact, the first few Gladue reports they did were done for free.
Soon after Legal Aid of Ontario started covering the costs.
Their work immediately grabbed the attention of defense lawyers and judges.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Lynn Ratushny was taken aback by a Gladue report written by IndiGenius on an Aboriginal man nabbed for bank robberies.
“It’s enough to make you weep,” Ratushny is quoted saying in the Ottawa Citizen back in September.
Judges in Ottawa weren’t used to reading such detailed Gladue reports.
In a separate case, Justice Ann Alder made a point of asking local defense attorney Anna Brylewski to pass a message onto Dickson and Marsolais after reading a Gladue report they completed on an Aboriginal man in a separate case.
“This was one of the best Gladue reports she has ever seen. She wanted me to thank you and pass along the message that this is exactly the kind of report that judges are looking for,” said Brylewski in an email to Dickson and Marsolais.
Brylewski said prior to Dickson and Marsolais defense lawyers had to rely on typical pre-sentencing reports (PSR) but they don’t get too deep into an Aboriginal offenders history.
For instance, a proper Gladue report will interview the offender, but also their family and other people like social service providers.
It supposed to look at the First Nation they’re from, the life they lived and effects caused by decades of oppression.
“(A PSR) is very on the surface, whereas with the Gladue report you get a real sense and real understanding of what that person’s history is … my client even learned things about his family he didn’t know,” said Brylewski.
Marsolais is Ojibway and a member of the Whitefish First Nation Indian Band of Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario. He said when they began doing Gladue reports they never expected there would be such a demand for them in Ottawa.
“We didn’t realize it was going to explode the way it did. What turned out to be something (small) ended up being something large and we just got phone calls after phone calls for Gladue reports,” said Marsolais. “We did a presentation at (the local jail) to the inmates and it just took off from there.”
Marsolais interviews most of their clients at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre.
Like many across Canada it has a large representation of Indigenous offenders.
But outside Ottawa many offenders have a hard time getting a Gladue report written.
This despite a 1999 Supreme Court ruling, Regina v Gladue, stating every Aboriginal person must have one before sentencing.
Bill Sundhu, a former judge and practicing lawyer in British Columbia, said the state of Gladue reporting across the country is flawed.
“It’s highly deficient and it’s very patchy. Some provinces are a little bit ahead of others but overall it’s highly inadequate,” said Sundhu.
Sundhu said many Aboriginal people never get a Gladue report in B.C.
“Only in exceptional cases will legal aid be able to fund a Gladue report, which is about $1,000 a report. So lawyers like myself only ever ask for them in very serious or exceptional cases. We know it’s not even worth our time,” he said. We’re going to get rejected for them if we apply on a routine basis. So in other words, judges do not have the information that they need and should have to render a fair and just sentence.”
The Supreme Court also said judges should seek alternatives to prison sentences due to a rising population of Aboriginal offenders in prison – a number that just keeps rising.
“The Supreme Court of Canada, as far back as 1999 in Gladue, said there is a problem of over incarnation of Aboriginal persons in Canada and judges need to be aware of that and do their homework. Meaning, roll up their sleeves and reduce the over-reliance on incarceration,” said Sundhu. “That did not work. In 2012, the Supreme Court again looked at the issue and said ‘come on judges, what we said in 1999 we meant.”
Sundhu sat on the bench in B.C. for 10 years up to 2007.
How many Gladue reports does he recall reading?
In 2012, the issue of Gladue reporting made its way back to the Supreme Court, as Sundhu mentioned, when two Inuk men had their cases go the highest level.
“Application of the Gladue principles is required in every case involving an aboriginal offender, including the breach of a long-term-supervision order,” said the Supreme Court in its ruling. “The failure to apply the Gladue principles in any case would also result in a sentence that is not fit and is not consistent with the fundamental principle of proportionality.”
The court, again, citied the history of “colonialism displacement” and residential schools has led to lower incomes, higher levels of unemployment, substance abuse and suicide.
A year later, a federal government report found the number of Aboriginal peoples in prisons increased by nearly 50 per cent in the last 10 years, yet during the same period, the amount of Caucasian inmates dropped.
Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers found Aboriginal peoples represent a “staggering” 23 per cent of federal inmates, but make up just 4.3 per cent of the total Canadian population.
IndiGenius find too often when they speak to a client it’s the first time anyone has listened to their story.
“Almost without exception when we sit down with one of our Indigenous clients to talk to them about the Gladue process we here the same thing: ‘Nobody has ever asked me about my story or my life, nobody has ever made me feel like it mattered,'” said Dickson.
That’s where Parlow comes into play, and he knows it.
He’s seen it, and standing outside of Carleton smoking a cigarette he opens up.
“It wasn’t easy walking in this place. I felt like I didn’t belong,” he said.
But he’s making it.
It’s all part of his “healing journey.”
He’s learning the law and said he’s going to stay in school until he’s teaching the same classes he is in right now.
But there is more that he wants to accomplish.
“There is an over representation of Aboriginal people in prison and it’s a systematic racist system and I want to see that changed. I want to see less people in prison, more rehabilitation programs and penal punishment being the less of measures,” he said.
He saw writing Gladue reports as a start.
Editor’s Note: APTN National News is continuing to investigate Gladue reporting across the country, including here in Ottawa. If you have a story to share contact reporter Kenneth Jackson at 613-325-6073 or by email.