What are my rights as an indigenous person in youth criminal court?

If you identify as Indigenous, you have the same rights as other young people who have been charged with a crime, plus other rights and options.

There are many ways people who are members of Inuit, status and non-status First Nations, and Metis communities self-identify. For the purposes of this website the term Indigenous is used to refer to members of these communities. This website may also refer to laws or organizations that use the word Aboriginal to refer to members of the same communities. 

Identifying as Indigenous

Self-identification means that based on you and your family’s lived experience or history, you describe yourself as Indigenous, Aboriginal, Métis, First Nations, or Inuit.

You don’t need any government documents, records, or anything “official” to prove you’re Indigenous. And you don’t have to have a status card or prove that you’re connected to an Indigenous community.

If you identify as Indigenous, it doesn’t matter if you live on or off reserve.

You can identify as Indigenous even if you were adopted into a non-Indigenous family or if you live in a non-Indigenous home, including a foster home or a group home.

Rights and options of Indigenous people

The rights and options you have as an Indigenous person include:

  • The right to have your Indigenous identity and circumstances considered at a bail hearing.
  • The right to have your Indigenous identity and circumstances considered at a sentencing hearing.
  • The option to participate in Indigenous Peoples Court, also called “Gladue court“.
  • The option to participate in Indigenous diversion instead of court, where available.

These rights and options apply to all Indigenous people. It doesn’t matter if you’re a youth or an adult.

Indigenous court or Gladue court

Gladue Court is a special court for people charged with a crime and who self-identify as Indigenous. Gladue Court is also called Indigenous Peoples Court.

These are Canadian courts that apply Canadian law. They often try to incorporate Indigenous cultural practices and understandings of justice. For example, a Gladue Court might start with a smudging ceremony or have Elders or Knowledge Keepers start with a song or prayer.

Some courthouses have only one day or a few days that Gladue Court is available each week. But every court must apply the Gladue principles even if it’s not a Gladue Court.

This means at sentencing hearings, all alternatives to jail must be considered before a jail is given. Jail is a last resort. And when a jail sentence is given, the court must apply Gladue principles to the length of the sentence.

And in Ontario, at hearings, all types of releases must be considered. Detention, or holding an accused without bail, is a last resort.

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