JUNE MEMBER PROFILE
For June, APAC would like to recognize Jennifer Bolton, Gladue Caseworker with Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto. She is a proud First Nations woman, mother, and community volunteer who is a shining role model and Aboriginal leader.
Describe your job(s) in just under four sentences.
As a Gladue Caseworker I am considered a friend of court and provide unbiased reports to the crown, defence and judge for Aboriginal clients who have either pled guilty or been found guilty of a crime to determine if there are alternatives to incarceration. A Gladue Report consists of background and systemic factors that may have brought the client before the justice system and recommendations often are focused on holistic alternatives or culturally appropriate treatment, with an eye towards rehabilitation. Much of the work involves interviewing clients in custody, their families and friends, accessing their medical or legal history and buttressing this with research to compile a life history that shows a truer picture of the client to the court, beyond their criminal record, for consideration at sentencing.
Why did you start working in your industries? What sparked your interest in these areas?
I have always been interested in law and during my undergraduate in criminology I learned a great deal about social justice and restorative justice. I was inspired by Professor Paul Baxter’s fourth year seminar on Aboriginal Peoples and the Law, and it introduced me to the works of Kent Roach and Jonathan Rudin, noted academics in the field. I knew I wanted to work in a field where I could make a difference in people’s lives, and hopefully work towards the wider goal of seeing less Aboriginal people in custody, and a wider understanding of how the legal process, marginalization and colonization has served as a contributing factor to a disproportionate level of Native people in Canadian jails.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy the variety of people I get to meet and the constant opportunities to learn. The aspect that makes me learn most from on the job would be currency- the need to be aware and knowledgeable about what is happening in law, academia and media.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Teaching, or finishing doctoral studies with a goal towards teaching as a university professor.
What does success look like to you?
Success to me looks like a client reunited with family, or a client graduating from school, a client who has no further charges on their criminal record and seeing those who need treatment or housing having access to it. It can also be invisible, like a person gaining confidence in their identity or healing past trauma. I think it is important to recognize that some success can be seen by others as small, but for the individual, a giant leap: something as simple as a client showing up for court or reporting for bail, which is significant for them. Success, to me, comes from being aware that it is happening all the time and focusing on the positive.
What has been the most outstanding moment thus far in your career?
Having a well known judge send an email to the program director with praise and seeing the client involved have another chance at a better future.
Do you volunteer? If so, where and why is that important to you?
I have volunteered for the Aboriginal Head Start Associate in the past for a number of years, at York University as Treasurer and then Vice President of the Aboriginal Students Association, as well as serving as Co-Chair for the Urban Aboriginal Strategy until November of 2011. Volunteering is important to me as no one can make a change alone, and many voices together make a bigger sound. I volunteer because I want to contribute to making positive paths for my children, all children, and the ones that come after them.
Do you have any advice for other Aboriginal professionals in Canada?
Support each other. Together we can be a strong community and make a presence in Canada.
What do you think is the most unique challenge for an Aboriginal person in your industry?
Ignorance unfortunately. Many people in the justice system have little understanding of who Aboriginal people are, which may be due to gaps in the curriculum and the state education system, and there are many stereotypes and presumptions that remain pervasive. Not only do we need to re-write the history that is taught that often excludes us, we need to often be the educator on the spot when we are faced with the legacy of our absence from or inaccurate constructions in historical record.
What made you interested in joining the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada and why would you encourage others to join?
I was interested in seeing our successes as a people and learn from others. I am the first in my direct line to attend a university and I wanted to meet others who may have similar experiences, exchange ideas with others in my field or learn about new fields. I encourage others to join the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada, as it is both a wonderful way to network, to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, to learn from others and participate in many of the activities and opportunities for learning they provide.