Judge releases book on struggle for justice in First Nations community 0
The longest-serving provincial court judge in Alberta can now add "author" to his impressive resume.
Judge John Reilly, 64, has been a circuit court judge presiding over Cochrane, Canmore, and Banff courtrooms for more than 30 years.
During his time as a judge, he found he was greatly preoccupied by the problems of the beleaguered Stoney Nakoda Reserve, and the legal problems of that community that he says result from poverty, addictions, suicide, violence, corruption, and illiteracy.
Since officially retiring two years ago, Reilly's been putting those courtroom experiences down on paper for his new book, Bad Medicine: A Judge's Struggle for Justice in a First Nations Community.
Though Reilly had known throughout his career that he'd one day write a book, he's not sure it could have been done without the help and encouragement of a support network, in the form of the Georgetown Research Institute, a Canmore-based club of academics and writers.
"Basically we're a group of men and we meet in the pub," chuckled Reilly. "But they told me if I wanted to join, I'd have to write this book. They prodded me."
The married father of four and grandfather of soon to be two said he'd had the subject of his book mulling around in his head for 10 years, but it wasn't until he retired that he felt it was appropriate to begin writing.
"Partly it was because of political reasons," he explained. "And partly because it took me that long after all the turmoil and litigation in the 1990s that I felt ready to write."
In 1997, Reilly ordered an investigation by the Crown to determine why so many people on the wealthy reserve west of Cochrane were living in abject poverty. He claimed he couldn't properly sentence offenders until an inquiry into social conditions was carried out.
Reilly was also critical of local administration and the way in which income was spent.
"Treatment programs were in place one minute and then gone the next," he said. "It's madness that they have three bands."
Reilly is referring to the fact the Stoney reserve is made up of the Wesley, Chiniki and Bearspaw bands.
But his book is mainly reflective, he says, about the change in his own philosophy over the years.
"I experienced a huge shift in my world view from being a right-wing judge in the '80s with stiff penalties, to my current point of view that is not that sentences should be more lenient, but more effective," he said. "Harsh treatment is counter-productive. I wanted to share that perspective of Aboriginal justice."
Reilly mentions in his book some of the specific cases that have shaped his views on First Nations crime and punishment.
"The word that defines my career is 'circumstances,'" he said, referring to the case of Sherman Labelle, a young man who hanged himself, prompting an inquiry into the problem of young person's suicide on the reserve.
Another example Reilly cites is that of Ernest Hunter, a Morley man who pled guilty to assaulting his wife. Previously, he'd been attending anger management classes and was reportedly doing well when funding for the program was abruptly withdrawn.
"I wrote this book hoping it would raise some questions," said Reilly. "It's a serious, serious problem when the (Aboriginal people) are so over-represented in the criminal courts."
Bad Medicine: A Judge's Struggle for Justice in a First Nations Community, is published by Rocky Mountain Books and will be available in most local bookstores early next month.