When I read a superb book, I want to share it. Although I do read e-books, the delight in owning a paper book is its quality of collectiveness. I can share it with family and friends with the hope a critical dialogue can ensue. As a law professor, I can enthusiastically recommend it to my students. When I read a well-written, insightful and impactful book, I don’t want to keep it to myself. The book I am about to discuss, Jonathan Rudin’s Practitioner’s Handbook on Indigenous Peoples and the Criminal Justice Systempublished by Emond Publishers, is one such book. It is a carefully written book for a broad audience of legal practitioners on complex legal issues. Yet it is also a compassionate book, profoundly articulating the failures of our profession and legal system to address historic and continuing wrongs against the Indigenous people of Canada.
First a note about Jonathan Rudinwho has dedicated his life’s journey to the recognition of our legal failures in our relationship with Indigenous people. His pathway through this book has been straight and true as he himself created legal institutions and legal principles, through his professional work at Aboriginal Legal Services, to ensure no Canadian forgets these failures. He has worked hard to turn these failures into positive developments. This book is indicative of his work and a testament to it.
The book opens as any legal treatise might by offering a literature review highlighting the systemic issues. But this is no ordinary literature review as page after page, Rudin summarizes each of the 13 Inquiries and Reports tabled since 1989, which have ruminated on Indigenous people in the criminal justice system. Starting with Donald Marshall Jrand ending in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Report, it becomes evident that for almost 30 years our system has expounded on these legal failures. It is equally clear, that for an equal number of years we have done little to nothing to change the gross inequalities inherent in our society which have caused those failures. There are an inordinate number of recommendations and a paucity of resulting change. This singular truth haunts the reader and compels us forward as we read page after page of case law steering us through those failures which have come to us through excruciatingly slow and deliberate steps.
And yet for all of our legal slowness, the impact of Gladue, as discussed in this book, is not so much celebrated as it is waved as a flag of defiance in support of a future that will move faster and with purpose. The purpose being to eradicate the discriminatory practices which have given the statisticaltruths of Indigenous overrepresentation in our legal systems their quality of hardness and bitter remorse. In the last part of the book, we revel in the promise of the extension of Gladueprinciples into every nook and cranny of our legal systems. From sentencing to bail and beyond into military and civil justice, we see a glimmer of what our law can be should we take up the task offered by this book. Indeed, no lawyer even on the margins of practicing law, should put this book aside without thought to what they can do to bring about meaningful change.
Meaningful change can be found in this book. Woven between the pages are suggestive kernels of knowledge that each of us can take back to our law practices, court rooms, and law schools. There is, for example, a telling passage on Aboriginal English (and French), taken from the ground breaking work of Australian Socio-linguist Diana Eades, which can leave one with the kind of “aha” moment needed to create innovative approaches to intractable problems. There are many such veil lifting moments in this book.
Another change moment appears in the chapter dedicated to Indigenous courts as organic entities, holding the promise of a more responsive and proportionate Canadian legal system. This chapter holds real meaning for me, as on June 21, 2018, The Donald Marshall Junior Centre for Justice and Reconciliationwas opened on the Nova Scotian Wagmatcook Reserve. The Centre holds provincial and superior courts incorporating Indigenous justice traditions and healing. It is the embodiment of the kind of change willed by Rudin’s book.
Often we say that truth is stranger than fiction, in the case of this practitioner’s handbook, we can say that truth, like good fiction, can move us to do great deeds. Although the book can be considered a legal treatise, it shows that the law does not need to speak in code to be understood. It is a book which I will keep on my shelves and unreservedly recommend to any future or present legal practitioner. It is a book for sharing and for shared dialogue on what we can do in our profession to right the wrongs of the past. Most of all, however, it is a book offering the promise of a better future for Indigenous justice to be read and fulfilled by us all.