Book Review: Indigenous People and the Criminal Justice System

Book Review Indigenous People and the Criminal Justice System A Practitioner's Handbook, by Jonathan Rudin
The oppression of Indigenous people in Canada has been the centerpiece of political, legal, and social justice discourse over the past five years. Whether it is the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court’s comments addressing Canada’s historical treatment of indigenous people, or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, indigenous issues are beginning to garner the attention they deserve.

Despite the renewed focus towards making reparations for the injustices committed against Indigenous people, the government’s macro-approach has not yet trickled down into one area where Indigenous people face significant hardship: the criminal justice system.

Jonathan Rudin’s Indigenous People and the Criminal Justice System: A Practitioner’s Handbook provides essential cultural, legal, and societal insight into the adversities facing Indigenous people in the criminal justice system.

This handbook begins with a quasi-guide for defence counsel navigating solicitor-client relationships with Indigenous accuseds, while also recognizing the role Crowns and Judges have in preventing the inherent disadvantages that many accuseds face. The book goes on to narrate the evolution of the criminal law as it relates to Indigenous People, and how seminal cases such as Gladue and Ipeelee have changed the landscape of sentencing (and more) for Indigenous people.

This book covers a number of specific topics ranging from inquiries and commissions into the adversity Indigenous people face in the criminal justice system, to incorporating Indigenous cultural practices in the legal system, sentencing circles, and Indigenous courts.

Concepts of Indigenous “identity”

Concepts of Indigenous “identity” are braided throughout this book. Indigenous identity is discussed in Chapter 3, a chapter dedicated to the best practices for Indigenous people in the legal context. The concept comes full circle later in the book as Rudin discusses how Indigenous identity interrelates with Gladue principles. This book underscores that the justice system often forces Indigenous people to prove their identity in ways that are not required of Canadians with different heritages and backgrounds.

Rudin takes the reader through the evolution of the criminal and sentencing laws, while making a conscious effort to describe the origins of the case and the circumstances of the accused. The author charts the course of several landmark cases, such as Gladue and Ipeelee, to inform the reader of the current state of the law. In the following chapter, he takes the seminal case of Gladue and discusses its application in the sentencing of Indigenous people.

This handbook breaks the mould that traditionally confines discussions about Indigenous people and the criminal law to the realm of sentencing. This text explores the cultural implications of being an Indigenous accused person in the criminal justice system. Rudin addresses several nuanced questions, such as, how should defence counsel go about enquiring into a client’s Indigenous status? Or how defence counsel, the Crown, and Judges should approach accommodating an accused who wishes to hold an eagle feather while testifying, or to smudge prior to giving testimony? This book interweaves discussion about the substantive law, whilst balancing this against practical tools for providing competent legal service to indigenous people.

A comprehensive overview for lawyers

For lawyers, this book offers a comprehensive overview of the criminal law as it relates to Indigenous people. It serves as a refreshing wealth of information for any legal practitioner seeking to better their ability to understand the intricacies that may impact their solicitor-client relationship with an Indigenous person.

This handbook is also a useful academic resource. Law students are notably undereducated on the topic of Aboriginal law and how Indigenous people deal with all facets of the legal system. If the rare circumstance arises that a course includes a unit on Indigenous people, this unit is often pushed to the end of the semester so that it can be easily dropped. Indigenous law units are often the first to be exempt from examination. If Canadian law schools ever decide to take up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ Call to Action, and institute a much-needed mandatory course on Aboriginal law, this practitioner’s handbook should serve as mandatory reading material.

Indigenous People and the Criminal Justice System: a Practitioner’s Handbook is an invaluable resource and it should be read and dog-eared by criminal lawyers and law students alike.