FAMOUS CASES | Criminal Sentencing of Aboriginal Offenders: Gladue.

AuthorBowal, Peter

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In the Gladue case, the Supreme Court of Canada considered Aboriginal sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code.

... the jail term for an aboriginal offender may in some circumstances be less than the term imposed on a non aboriginal offender for the same offence.

R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688 (SCC) at para 93

On September 16, 1995, Jamie Gladue was celebrating her 19th birthday at her apartment in Nanaimo, British Columbia. She was with her common-law partner Reuben Beaver and other family members and friends. Gladue, who was pregnant with Beaver's second child, suspected he was having an affair with her sister. She said, "the next time he fools around on me, I'll kill him".

Her sister left the party, followed by Beaver. Gladue told her friend, "He's going to get it. He's really going to get it this time." Gladue later found Beaver and her sister coming down the stairs together at her sister's place a few doors down. When they returned to their apartment, Beaver did not deny the infidelity and shouting ensued. Gladue, with twice the legal driving limit of alcohol in her body, stabbed Beaver. As he fled down the hallway, she grabbed a larger knife and ran toward Beaver telling him "that he had better run." She stabbed Beaver--this time hard--and returned boasting, "I got you, you fucking bastard." She jumped up and down "as if she had tagged someone". Beaver was dead.

Canada's top judges would later describe this as a "near murder", although most Canadians would not understate it in this way. Gladue was charged with second degree murder and her plea to manslaughter was accepted. The legal issue became what the appropriate sentence was for this young Aboriginal woman--with prior convictions for impaired driving and breaching bail--who had killed Beaver.

Criminal Code Sentencing Amendments

In 1996, after Gladue's crime, the Canadian government sought to reduce the rate of incarceration. It introduced amendments to the Criminal Code to address sentencing. Section 718.2 is relevant to Gladue's sentencing:

A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles: ... (e) all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders. Up to now, imprisonment was viewed as the highest form of punishment. The last resort. Essentially the amendment was a...

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