Getting legal help
Are you Aboriginal?
Legal Aid Ontario has made services to Aboriginal clients a priority.
To provide the best service possible, lawyers who represent Aboriginal clients in criminal matters must take special training to ensure they understand the unique legal status of Aboriginal people. Staff lawyers also receive training so that they understand the legal issues that impact Aboriginal people in the Canadian justice system.
If you are an Aboriginal person, it is important that you self-identify your Aboriginal ancestry to your lawyer or duty counsel.
Aboriginal people and Canadian law
The Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the Child and Family Service Act all have parts that consider the unique legal status of Aboriginal people in Canada. Read below for more information about the law and how it affects Aboriginal people.
Criminal law issues
The Criminal Code of Canada considers the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the Canadian criminal justice system, and recognizes the need to take into account additional factors in sentencing an Aboriginal offender.
Sections 718.2 (e) of the Criminal Justice Act and Section 38 (2)(d) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act help judges when sentencing and require the court to remember to:
- Consider all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable.
- Pay particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders.
How Gladue applies in Canadian courts
In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled in R v. Gladue that courts must consider an Aboriginal offender’s background when they are being sentenced for a crime.
Every criminal court in Canada is required to take Gladue factors and principles into consideration when sentencing an Aboriginal person. Courts in Ontario are also required to take a person’s Aboriginal background and the Gladue principles into account at bail hearings.
Gladue related services
Gladue related services are offered at courts in Toronto, Hamilton, Brantford, the Waterloo-Wellington area, and Sarnia. In Toronto and Sarnia there are dedicated Gladue courts.
In Toronto, legal workers from Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto provide special Gladue reports to the court, or provide assistance to Aboriginal people by creating release plans for use in bail hearings.
These reports and plans contain information on the unique circumstances of Aboriginal people accused of an offence or Aboriginal offenders. The court can take these reports into account during sentencing. Sentencing in the Gladue court focuses on the restorative alternatives to imprisonment, while deciding the appropriate and fit sentence of offenders.
If you are convicted of a crime or plan to plead guilty to an offence, your lawyer will have to ask you questions about your background in order to tell the court what principles and factors should be considered in your case.
Has the Children's Aid Society taken or threatened to take your children into care?
Legal Aid Ontario assists eligible clients with this type of matter. Call Legal Aid Ontario toll free (1-800-668-8258) to find out if we can help you.
In child welfare proceedings, section 37(4) of the Child and Family Service Act includes cultural factors in deciding what is in the best interests of an Aboriginal child.
Subsection 37(4) states that where an Aboriginal child is concerned "the importance, in recognition of the uniqueness of Indian and native culture, heritage and traditions" must be considered to preserve the child's cultural identity.
The Act also recognizes that, whenever possible, Aboriginal people should be able to provide their own child and family services, and that all services to Aboriginal children and families "should be provided in a manner that recognizes their culture, heritage and traditions and the concept of the extended family. Letting your lawyer know of your Aboriginal status can help protect your rights.
Find more information about family law matters, including issues relating to the Children’s Aid Society.