Jonathon Rudin’s “Indigenous People and the Criminal Justice System” – an Easy Read as Well as an Essential Reference

Given recent events, examining the impact of criminal law on Indigenous people should be on the agenda of every criminal lawyer in Canada. Lawyers and judges need to understand that cases involving Indigenous accused persons and victims require specific knowledge and skills. Jonathon Rudin’s “Practitioner’s Handbook on Indigenous People and the Criminal Justice System” provides both the means to understand the case law and valuable insights into representing indigenous clients.

This book should be considered to be an “essential” reference work. Mention of this book has previously been made on Slaw. The first time was when it was announced that the book was the winner of Walter Owen Book Price. Later Slaw published an extract under the title “Accommodation for Indigenous Cultural Practices in Court”. Neither does the book justice. The Jury for the Walter Owen Book Prize found Rudin’s treatment of the issues relating to Indigenous people in Canada’s criminal justice system to be “painstakingly comprehensive, compassionate and exceptionally articulate.”

By way of providing context for his book, the author notes that “indigenous persons bear the brunt of the punitive aspects of the criminal justice system” and states that “there is a need for lawyers to better represent Indigenous clients”. The author adds that “Virtually all criminal law practitioners represent Aboriginal clients – although often they may not know their client is Indigenous and that, in itself, is a problem. As a lawyer, to represent your Indigenous clients, you need to know about your clients and you need to know the relevant law, and that is why this book was written”.

What the reader will find in the chapters of this book:

Chapter 2 – Looks at 13 commissions and inquiries that provide context for a review of the criminal justice system and Aboriginal people
Chapter 3 – Addresses issues relating to working with Indigenous people within the criminal justice system including a discussion of Aboriginal identity, assumptions that influence our attitude and approaches to Indigenous people who appear before the courts, and how Indigenous cultural accommodation can occur in court
Chapter 4 – Discusses in detail three major Supreme Court cases , William, Glashue and Ipeelee, addressing Aboriginal people and the criminal justice system
Chapter 5 – Focuses on the issue of how the courts have addressed the issue of indigenous identity in sentencing offenders
Chapter 6 – Looks at Indigenous identity and bail, firearms prohibitions, dangerous offender hearings, military justice, review board hearing, parole, civil contempt, extradition and professional discipline
Chapter 7 – Examines the evolving use of sentencing circles
Chapter 8 – Examines the rise of Indigenous Specific courts in Canada, including mainstream courts that have altered their practices to better serve the Indigenous accused and offenders who appear before them

Reading this book was a pleasure. The editorial production values introduced by Emond, make it an easy read. The frequent use of colour to highlight sections and as markers for chapters, combined with the elegant layout and design, demonstrate the continuing value of print as a means of moving a reader with ease through the seemingly endless reports of commissions and inquires, as well as discussions of caselaw and culture. To my surprise, I literally could not put the book down, something quite remarkable in what is in fact “A Practitioners Handbook” for the legal profession. The book should be required reading by members of the legal profession.

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