kidnapping

12 Year Sentence for Vigilante Justice Upheld

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Alberta Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, upheld Steven Vollrath’s (“Vollrath”) 12-year prison sentence for cutting off his victim’s thumb during an abduction in a case of vigilantism.

Two of the three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that Vollrath’s sentence at trial was appropriate for the well planned “revenge kidnapping”.

The Appeal Court denounced vigilantism and stated:

Vigilantism undermines the rule of law and interferes with the administration of justice. As a general rule, those who engage in it should be dealt with severely.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In May, 2013, Richard Suter (“Suter”) was parked next to a restaurant when he and his wife began having an argument. He failed to put his car in park, and as the car proceeded forward, he unintentionally pushed on the accelerator instead of the brake. The car advanced onto the restaurant’s patio striking and killing a two-year-old child.

Suter was convicted of failing to provide a breath sample. The trial judge found that the accident was caused by driver error and not drunkenness. The Supreme Court of Canada reduced Suter’s 26-month sentence to the 10 months he had already served in jail.

While Suter was awaiting trial, Vollrath, dressed as a police officer, and two accomplices rang Suter’s doorbell and abducted him in front of his wife. His captors revealed that the reason he was being abducted was that he had hit and killed a child with his car. Suter was taken to a snowy field, his thumb was cut off with pruning shears, and he was left unconscious in the snow.

Vollrath was convicted in 2016 of kidnapping, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon, and impersonating a police officer. Vollrath had a lengthy criminal record, including violent and weapons offences.

SENTENCING PRINCIPLES

According to section 718 of the Criminal Code, the purpose of sentencing is to protect society and to impose sanctions that meet the following objectives:

  • denounce unlawful conduct;
  • deter the offender and others from committing offences;
  • separate offenders from society;
  • assist in rehabilitating offenders;
  • provide reparations for harm done to victims or the community; and
  • promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledge the harm done to victims or to the community.

Sentencing must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.

In deciding on an appropriate sentence, the Court must consider aggravating and mitigating factors, sentences imposed on similar offenders for similar offences, and all available sanctions other than imprisonment must be considered.

In Mr. Vollrath’s case, the Court considered the following aggravating factors:

  • he did not act alone;
  • there was advance planning involved in committing the offences;
  • he impersonated a police officer with the purpose of facilitating another offence;
  • the incident began at the Suter’s home;
  • the kidnapping and assault were targeted;
  • leaving Suter maimed and unconscious in a deserted area showed a callous indifference to whether he lived or died;
  • the lasting physical harm to Suter;
  • the psychological impact to both Mr. and Mrs. Suter;
  • Vollrath’s extensive criminal record; and
  • Vollrath was on release at the time of the offences.

The Court is also obligated to consider background factors for aboriginal offenders and to consider how these factors affect the offending behaviour. In Mr. Vollrath’s case, the Court found that he had no connection with his aboriginal culture at the time he became incarcerated. Furthermore, the Court held that Vollarth’s dysfunctional background was not connected to his aboriginal history as his biological father, who was a Metis man, left him when he was very young.

In coming to a conclusion in her 2016 sentencing decision, Justice E. A. Johnson of the Provincial Court of Alberta felt that the most important objective was to “denounce the acts and to deter Mr. Vollrath and others from engaging in this kind of behaviour.” Justice Johnson also considered the objectives of separating the offender from society and rehabilitation. Therefore, Justice Johnson concluded that 12 years of incarceration were fitting given the seriousness of the offence, the degree of responsibility of the offender, the aggravating factors, and the need for denunciation and deterrence.  The majority of the Alberta Court of Appeal agreed with this sentencing decision.

WHAT COMES NEXT FOR VOLLRATH?

At the Court of Appeal, the dissenting judge held that Vollrath should have been sentenced to nine years in jail after taking into account the deprivations of his childhood.

Given that there was a dissenting opinion on appeal, Vollrath has the option of appealing his case to the Supreme Court of Canada. However, the Supreme Court of Canada will only hear a case if it is convinced that the case involves a question of public importance. Approximately 1 out of 10 cases that request “leave” to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada receive permission.

We will continue to follow this case and will report any developments on this blog.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced and knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times. We are available when you need us most.

Police Warn that Airbnb Rentals are Being Used for Human Trafficking

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Airbnb has become an immensely popular avenue used by individuals to list their homes and apartments for others to use when vacationing. Nevertheless, Toronto police have found an increase in pimps using Airbnb rentals in recent years. Human traffickers may choose to use Airbnb rentals instead of motels due to the greater likelihood for anonymity. Detective Sergeant Nunzio Tramontozzi has stated:

There has to be more due diligence on the part of the … people that are renting out their properties. We have a good relationship with Airbnb. We have brought our concerns to them, and they’re working with us to try and rid pimps of using their properties in Toronto.

RECENT CASE OF ALLEGED HUMAN TRAFFICKING

In mid-February, Toronto police arrested two men who are alleged to have forced a 19-year-old woman into the sex trade for more than a month, running most of their business at various Airbnb properties in the Greater Toronto Area. The men are facing 58 charges, including human trafficking charges. Police allege that the men took the woman’s identification and forced her to turn over all the money she earned to them. When the woman got into an argument with the two men and told them she no longer wanted to work as an escort, one of the men pointed a firearm at her face. A shot was fired and the woman was shot in the buttocks area. The men then transported her to several addresses in the GTA. The woman finally escaped and sought medical attention at a hospital in Brampton.

WHAT IS HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

Human trafficking involves the exploitation for profit of a person through force, fraud, or coercion. Victims are mostly women and children who are forced to provide their labour or sexual services. Exploitation often occurs through intimidation, force, psychological manipulation, emotional abuse, lies, addiction, sexual assault, isolation, taking control of their ID and money, and threats of violence to themselves or their families.

Ontario is a major centre for human trafficking in Canada, with approximately two-thirds of reported cases arising in Ontario. Girls as young as 13 are being recruited by pimps into a world of unpaid sex work, often recruited on social media or at public places like shopping malls and playgrounds. The relationship usually begins as a romantic one and then the pimps ask the girls to perform sexual services on clients as a favour and with the promise of financial reward. Over time, the pimps threaten violence, take away their phones and ID and offer the girls hard drugs.

Human trafficking is an offence found in the Criminal Code of Canada (“CC”) and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The CC includes four indictable offences to address human trafficking, including:

  • Trafficking in persons (section 279.01);
  • Trafficking of a person under the age of eighteen years (section 279.011);
  • Receiving financial or material benefit knowing it results from the commission of an offence under sections 279.01 and 279.011 (section 279.02); and
  • Withholding or destroying documents (section 279.03).

There are many other offences contained in the CC that also apply to human trafficking cases including kidnapping, forcible confinement, uttering threats, extortion, assault, sexual assault, prostitution related offences and criminal organization offences.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act contains a provision that prohibits the bringing into Canada of persons by means of abduction, fraud, deception or use of threat of force or coercion. Section 118 of this Act includes this provision with the accused facing a maximum penalty of a fine up to $1 million and/or up to life imprisonment.

If you have been charged with human trafficking or a related charge or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We have a 24-hour phone service for your convenience. We are available when you need us most.