sentencing

Re-Trial Underway for Couple Charged in Son’s Death

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP


The re-trial for David and Collet Stephan has begun in Lethbridge Provincial Court, in Alberta.  The couple are each facing one count for failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 18-month-old son Ezekiel, who died of bacterial meningitis in 2012.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The Stephans were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son at trial in 2016.  David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail.  His wife, Collet, was sentenced to three months of house arrest.  She was only to be allowed to leave her home for medical appointments and to attend church.  They were also to be on probation for two years, and were ordered to complete 240 hours of community service.

The couple had used natural remedies to treat their son rather than take him to a doctor when he had become severely ill.  They made smoothies out of hot pepper, ginger root, horseradish and onion.  The Stephans finally called for medical assistance once their son stopped breathing.  Ezekiel was rushed to a local hospital, but died after being transported by air ambulance to a Children’s Hospital in Calgary. 

We have previously blogged about the outcome of the Stephan’s appeal to the Alberta Court of Appeal.  On appeal, the Stephans argued that their convictions should be overturned because the trial judge erred by allowing too many Crown experts to testify, the medical jargon used during the trial confused the jurors, and the defence expert’s testimony was restricted.

At that time, the majority of the Appeal Court dismissed all grounds of appeal, including the position that the Stephans’ Charter rights had been violated because of the unreasonable delay between the time they were charged and the date they were convicted.

However, Justice Brian O’Ferrall did not agree with the majority of the Appeal Court and wrote a dissenting opinion in favour of a new trial for the Stephans.  It was Justice O’Ferrall’s opinion that the trial judge’s charge to the jury was confusing and misleading. 

The Stephans were granted an automatic right to have the Supreme Court of Canada hear their appeal as one of the three judges on the appeal panel dissented. 

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA?

In an unusual practice, the Supreme Court of Canada, after hearing all arguments on appeal, provided an immediate ruling from the bench.  On behalf of the highest court in Canada, Justice Michael Moldaver ruled that the trial judge did not properly instruct the jurors and therefore allowed the appeal, quashed the convictions and ordered a new trial.

PRE-TRIAL PROCEEDINGS

Prior to the commencement of their new trial, the Stephans filed an application requesting $1 million to cover their past legal expenses and $3 million to be placed in trust for any future defence fees.  The Stephans claimed that they had liquidated their assets, owed money to their previous lawyer, and did not have the funds necessary to receive a fair re-trial. 

The couple also filed applications to have certain statements withheld from the re-trial.  All of these applications have been denied. 

During the couple’s pre-trial hearing, they attempted to have statements exempted that they made to police, hospital staff and child welfare workers at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  They argued that they were tired, stressed and felt pressured by the presence of the police when they made those statements.  Justice J.D. Rooke denied these applications as well as he could not find any breaches of the Stephans’ rights.

The Stephans also submitted additional applications to delay their re-trial.  These requests were denied by the judge and the re-trial was ordered to proceed as scheduled on June 3, 2019. 

Prior to the commencement of the pre-trial, David Stephan posted a video on his Facebook page stating:

The deck is stacked against us huge.  … I don’t have high hopes.  I anticipate that we may just find ourselves again before the Supreme Court of Canada and hopefully find some justice there like we did the last time.

COUPLE SENTENCED IN A SIMILAR DECISION

Last fall, a jury found Jeromie and Jennifer Clark guilty of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 14-month-old son, John.  They failed to seek medical attention until the day before he died from an infection in November 2013.

The boy was found to be malnourished and died from a staph infection. 

The Crown requested a sentence of four to five years for the couple, while their lawyers recommended a more lenient sentence in the range of probation to eight months in jail.

Earlier this month, the couple were each sentenced to 32 months in prison.  Justice Paul Jeffrey stated:

A period of incarceration is necessary to deter other parents who may similarly recklessly forgo proper and timely medical care for their child.

We will continue to follow the developments in the Stephans’ court case and will provide updates in this blog as they become available.

In the meantime, if you are facing charges or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services.  We are available when you need us most.

Life in Prison for Man Who Murdered His Pregnant Wife

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Nicholas Baig (“Baig”) has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his pregnant wife, Arianna Goberdhan (“Goberdhan”) (27 years old). 

Goberdhan’s family and friends are outraged that Baig was charged and sentenced for the murder of one person, not two.  Under Canadian law, Goberdhan’s unborn child is not considered a person and is therefore not the victim of a crime.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Goberdhan and Baig were married in November, 2016 and lived for a period of time with his parents in Pickering.  Goberdhan moved back into her parent’s home in January, 2017 as their relationship had deteriorated.

During the sentencing hearing, the court heard evidence of “vile” texts from Baig to his wife and was made aware that the police had been called on a few occasions.  In fact, a week before the murder, the police were called when Baig came to the Goberdhan’s home and broke down a door when he was refused entry.

On April 7, 2017, Goberdhan left her parent’s home in Ajax at 6:30 p.m. and drove to see Baig in Pickering.  Goberdhan called 911 at 9:42 p.m. that evening.  Although she did not speak to the operator, Goberdhan was overheard pleading with Baig to let her go home.  The 911 operator called her back when the call ended and she confirmed that she needed the police.  Security cameras recorded Baig leaving the residence at 9:44 p.m., and driving off in Goberdhan’s vehicle.

When police arrived on scene, they found Goberdhan deceased, with a large knife beside her body.  She was nine months pregnant at the time.  It was determined that Baig had stabbed Goberdhan 17 times.  Baig was arrested the following day and has remained in custody since his arrest.

Baig pleaded guilty to the second degree murder of Goberdhan. 

Given his guilty plea to second-degree murder, Baig faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison.  However, it was up to the judge to decide when he would be eligible to apply for parole.  The minimum period of parole ineligibility for the offence is 10 years. 

The Crown prosecutor recommended parole ineligibility for a term of 20 years given the “reprehensible nature of Baig’s offence”.  Prosecutor George Hendry stated in his submissions to the court:

In making this submission the Crown is recognizing this is above the sentencing range for domestic homicides.  The nature and circumstances surrounding the commission of this offence elevate that range.

On the other hand, Baig’s lawyer argued for a 12 to 15 year term for parole eligibility.

Superior Court Justice Jocelyn Speyer sentenced Baig to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 17 years.

FETAL HOMICIDE AND THE LAW

Under the Criminal Code (section 223(1)), a fetus becomes a human being when it has “completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother”.   

Given this definition, an unborn child cannot be the victim of a homicide and has no legal recourse.  In order to be charged with the murder of an infant, the child has to be born alive first, and then die.  Therefore, Baig was not charged or prosecuted for the death of his unborn daughter, who was to be named Asaara.

In accordance with the law, Justice Speyer sentenced Baig for the murder of Goberdhan only.  Goberdhan’s friends and family were not satisfied with the court’s decision on sentencing Baig.  They filled the courtroom and wore shirts with Goberhan’s image and the name of a new campaign entitled the “Phenomenal Women Project” aimed to establish new law that holds those who kill pregnant women accountable for the deaths of both the mother and child.

Goberdhan’s parents are petitioning for legislative changes.  They call the petition “Arianna’s Law”.  They are asking the government to “pass legislation that recognizes that, when an assailant in a commission of a crime attacks a pregnant woman and injures or kills her pre-born child, then the assailant may be charged with an offence on behalf of the pre-born child.”

Laws of this nature have been proposed in the past, but have all failed.  The concern is that these types of laws will pave the way to criminalize abortion.

The Goberdhans argue that the “law has to be defined in such a way that it’s a violence against women crime.  It has nothing to do …with pro-life or pro-choice.  It’s specific to violence.”  The proposed law is intended to deter abusive partners from harming pregnant women. 

We will continue to follow any updates in the law regarding the murder of an unborn child in Canada and will report on developments in this blog.

If you have any questions regarding charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights.  For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour telephone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice.

Truck Driver in Brocos Bus Crash Sentenced to Prison

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last week, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu (“Sidhu”) was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty in January to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Sidhu was the semi-truck driver involved in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in rural Saskatchewan on April 6, 2018.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The accident occurred when Sidhu drove through a stop sign and collided with a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team that was heading to a playoff game. Sidhu was traveling between 86 and 96 km/h. He passed four signs warning him about the upcoming intersection that had an oversized stop sign with a flashing light.

A forensic collision report found that Sidhu did not brake at the intersection of Highway 335 and 35 before colliding with the bus. The report also indicated that Sidhu’s view of the intersection was not impeded by any environmental factors, such as trees or sunlight.

At the conclusion of the four day sentencing hearing, Sidhu apologized to his victims and took full responsibility for the crash. He stated that the accident occurred due to his inexperience as a truck driver.

More than 90 victim impact statements were presented to the court by friends and families of the victims and hours of arguments were made by lawyers. The victim statements were emotional with some families stating that they were able to forgive Sidhu, while others admitted that they would never be able to forgive him for his role in the accident.

Sidhu’s lawyer explained that he had been hired by a small Calgary trucking company three weeks prior to the accident. He spent two weeks with another trucker and then began driving on his own. Sidhu was apparently distracted by a tarp flapping on the trailer of the truck which resulted in his missing the four warning signs regarding the upcoming intersection. His lawyer advised the court that sentencing in cases of dangerous driving ranged from 18 months to 4 ½ years.

The Crown prosecutor argued that Sidhu had enough time to slow down and stop and described Sidhu’s driving as entering the intersection “like a rocket”.  He argued that Sidhu should receive a 10-year prison sentence, followed by a 10-year driving ban.

THE SENTENCE

Judge Inez Cardinal provided her sentencing decision in a makeshift courthouse at the Kerry Vickar Centre. The victim’s family and friends wore Broncos jerseys with the last names of their loved ones on the back.  Judge Cardinal began handing down her sentencing decision by reading the names of each of the victims aloud. She described the victims as:

…gifted athletes, community leaders, and team builders with hopes and dreams for the future…Some were dreaming of having a family, while others were already raising their families.

 Judge Cardinal recognized that there has been no similar case in Saskatchewan or Canada given the number of fatalities and injuries. She acknowledged that Sidhu’s remorse and guilty plea spared the victims’ families a lengthy trial and saved him from a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Judge Cardinal stated:

It is baffling, and incomprehensible, that a professional driver, even one with little experience, could miss so many markers over such a long distance. His inattention displays risky behaviour given he saw the signs but they did not register because he continued to focus on the trailers behind him.

Sidhu was sentenced to eight years for each count of causing death, and five years for each count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. The sentences are to be served concurrently as they all arise from the same circumstances, which means the sentences will be served simultaneously.  Sidhu was also given a 10-year driving ban, a firearms prohibition, and is required to provide bodily samples for the purpose of DNA analysis.

WHAT COMES NEXT?

Sidhu grew up in India and came to Canada in 2013. He is a permanent resident, not a Canadian citizen. As a result of his conviction and sentence, Sidhu will face deportation to India.

Under Canada’s federal law, permanent residents cannot remain in Canada if they commit a crime for which the maximum sentence is at least 10 years or their jail sentence is more than six months.

As a result of this accident, the Saskatchewan government has undertaken to make changes to the intersection where the crash occurred, promising to add rumble strips and better signage.  The government has also promised to put millions of dollars into improvements at other intersections.

Although there is mandatory training for semi-truck drivers in Ontario, training for semi-truck drivers in Saskatchewan only became mandatory last week. Training for drivers across the rest of the country will also become mandatory in 2020.

If you are facing a dangerous driving charge or need to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about criminal charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are available when you need us most.

Sentence of Life With No Parole for 40 Years for Quebec Mosque Shooter

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last week two sentencing decisions were made in two high profile criminal cases in Canada. In both decisions, the court was left to decide how many years the accused will have to wait until he can apply for parole given the multiple counts of first-degree murder.

As we wrote in our blog last week, Bruce McArthur (“McArthur”), 67 years old, pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight men who disappeared between 2010 and 2017 in Toronto’s Gay Village. Justice John McMahon sentenced McArthur to life in prison for each of the eight counts. Justice McMahon did not order consecutive periods of parole ineligibility and instead decided that McArthur was not eligible for parole for 25 years.

Justice McMahon, in his sentencing reasons, stated:

Due to the accused’s age, I am satisfied that when dealing with the protection of the public, concurrent periods of parole ineligibility can adequately address the protection of the public. It would not be until Mr. McArthur is 91 years of age that he could apply for consideration for parole.

In Quebec, Alexandre Bissonnette (“Bissonnette”), 29 years old, pleaded guilty to killing six men at a Quebec City mosque on January 29, 2017. He was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 40 years.

WHAT HAPPENED AT BISSONNETTE’S SENTENCING HEARING?

In March 2018, Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder as a result of his actions on the evening of January 29, 2017.

Bissonnette, armed with a .223-calibre rifle, a 9-mm Glock pistol, and 108 bullets, shot into a crowded prayer room at the Islamic Cultural Centre as Sunday prayers were ending.

The Crown prosecutor argued before the Quebec Superior Court that the parole periods should be consecutive, which would result in a total of 150 years with no chance of parole. This would have been the longest prison sentence in Canadian history. To date, the longest prison sentence of 75 years without parole has been handed down in five cases involving triple killings. For example, in the case of Justin Bourque who murdered three RCMP officers in New Brunswick in 2014.

Bissonnette’s lawyer argued that his client’s sentences should be served concurrently. This means Bissonnette could seek parole after 25 years in prison. Bissonnette was described by his lawyer as an “anxious” man suffering from depression who required alcohol in order to reduce his inhibitions on the night of the killings. He has been described by his own defence team as a “sick young man” who can be rehabilitated and has shown remorse and shame.

WHAT WAS THE JUDGE’S RULING ON SENTENCING?

Before providing his sentence to Bissonnette, Justice Francois Huot addressed the offender by stating:

By your hate and your racism, you destroyed the lives of dozens and dozens of people, and have irredeemably ruined your own and those of the members of your family.

Justice Huot then proceeded to provide a detailed account of Bissonnette’s actions on the night of the shooting.

In his ruling, Justice Francois Huot rejected the Crown’s argument and instead imposed a concurrent life sentence of a 25-year parole ineligibility period for the first five counts of murder and added a 15-year period of ineligibility for the sixth count. This means that Bissonnette will not be eligible for parole for 40 years.

Justice Huot reasoned that sentences that exceed an offender’s life expectancy and offer no hope of release are “grossly disproportionate and totally incompatible with human dignity” and would constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Although Justice Huot did not strike down the section of the Criminal Code which allows for consecutive life sentences, he used his discretion to hand down a consecutive life sentence that was less than the traditional 25 year block (as first-degree murder carries a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years).

According to Justice Huot, the following aggravating factors justified a sentence harsher than the 25-year period:

  • He planned his attack carefully;
  • He targeted vulnerable and unarmed people in their place of worship; and
  • He took aim at Canada’s right to freedom of religion.

Justice Huot also considered that Bissonnette had been struggling with mental health problems in the time leading up to the shootings. He also considered the fact that Bissonnette had no previous criminal record, he pleaded guilty, and he expressed remorse.

Lawyers for both the Crown and the defence will be reviewing Justice Huot’s lengthy 246-page decision to decide whether to appeal the sentence. We will continue to follow this case and will report any developments that occur in this blog.

In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our clients’ rights. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.

McArthur Pleads Guilty and Awaits His Sentence

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last week, Bruce McArthur (“McArthur”) pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight men who disappeared between 2010 and 2017 in Toronto’s Gay Village.

At his sentencing hearing this week, an agreed statement of facts was presented to the court. In the statement, McArthur admitted that he intended to kill all eight men and afterward dismembered the men to avoid getting caught. He admitted that six were sexual in nature and that he kept some of his victims’ personal items as “souvenirs” and “staged” some of his victims.

AGREED STATEMENT OF FACTS

The following are some of the facts included in the Agreed Statement of Facts that were presented before Justice John McMahon in the Ontario Superior Court:

  • McArthur intended and caused each of the eight deaths;
  • Each of the murders was planned and deliberate and the murders were committed in the course of sexually assaulting the victims or committed while the victims were unlawfully confined;
  • The investigation found a duffle bag in McArthur’s bedroom containing duct tape, a surgical glove, rope, zip ties, a black bungee cord, and syringes;
  • To avoid detection, McArthur dismembered his victims’ bodies; and
  • McArthur disposed of the body parts at 53 Mallory Crescent in Toronto, where he worked as a gardener, placing some of the body parts in planters or in the ravine adjacent to the property.

ACCEPTANCE OF A GUILTY PLEA

According to the Criminal Code, a conviction or finding of guilt is not entered until the court accepts the plea.

Under section 606(1.1) of the Criminal Code, a plea of guilty can only be accepted if the Court is satisfied of the following:

  • That the accused is making the plea voluntarily; and
  • That the accused understands that the plea is an admission of the elements of the offence; and
  • That the accused understands the nature and consequences of the plea; and
  • That the accused understands that the court is not bound by any agreement made between the accused and the Crown prosecutor.

Therefore, for a guilty plea to be valid it must possess all of the following features:

  • Voluntary;
  • Unequivocal;
  • Information of the nature of the allegations; and
  • Informed of the consequences of the plea.

Justice McMahon began McArthur’s court proceedings last week by confirming that McArthur understood what is meant to plead guilty and warned him that he could not plead guilty to things he did not do just to get his case over with. McArthur replied “Yes”, when asked if he understood that he was giving up his right to a trial.

McArthur confirmed that he was not pressured by family, friends, lawyers or police officers to plead guilty.

Justice McMahon explained that McArthur would be sentenced to life imprisonment. He specifically asked, “So, you understand you’ll have to serve at least until you’re 91 before you could be eligible to apply for parole?” McArthur responded, “Yes, your honour.”

Once a guilty plea has been entered, there is no burden on the Crown prosecutor to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Furthermore, a guilty plea also terminates any procedural rights, rights of appeal or the ability to challenge the ruling of guilt.

PROSECUTORS SEEK CONSECUTIVE LIFE SENTENCES

Crown prosecutors have asked the Superior Court of Justice to sentence McArthur to two consecutive life sentences for the eight murders that McArthur committed. This means that McArthur will be behind bars until he is 116 years old, without a chance for parole.

Assistant Crown attorney Craig Harper (“Harper”) argued that McArthur’s crimes were heinous, he preyed on the vulnerable and “[h]e spread fear in a community that, regardless of its multiple strengths, struggles with a tenuous sense of safety.”

In support of his request for two consecutive life sentences, Harper also put before the court that permitting McArthur a parole hearing in 25 years would mean that the families of his victims may have to face him again in court.

McArthur’s lawyer, on the other hand, requested that the court sentence his client to serve all eight sentences concurrently. This would mean that McArthur would serve all the sentences at the same time.

It is the position of McArthur’s defence lawyer that due to his age it is not necessary to extend his parole eligibility beyond the minimum 25 years, which comes with a life sentence. This means he would not be able to apply for parole until he was at least 91 years old. He argues that a longer sentence will be “unduly harsh”.

Justice McMahon will soon make a decision on McArthur’s sentence and we will provide updates in this blog as the information becomes available.

In the meantime, to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are available when you need us most.

Millard Files Appeal of Conviction in Father’s Death

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Dellen Millard is appealing his first-degree murder conviction and sentence for the death of his father, Wayne Millard.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In September, 2018, Millard was found guilty of murdering his father. In a judge alone court case, Millard was convicted of shooting his 71-year-old father, Wayne Millard, through his left eye as he slept on November 29, 2012.

Millard’s father’s death was originally ruled a suicide. Following Millard’s convictions in the deaths of Tim Bosma (“Bosma”) and Laura Babcock (“Babcock”), police began to re-examine Wayne Millard’s apparent suicide. Crown Prosecutors alleged that Millard killed his father in order to protect his inheritance.

During the investigation, Millard revealed to the police that his father was depressed and an alcoholic. Millard told police that he found his father dead in bed around 6 p.m. on November 29, 2012. He claimed that he last saw his father alive around noon the day before and spent the night at his friend Mark Smich’s house (his accomplice in the murders of Bosma and Babcock).

Phone records revealed that Millard travelled back to his father’s house in the early hours of the morning on November 29, 2012. The police came to learn that the gun found next to Wayne Millard was a gun purchased illegally by his son and had the younger Millard’s DNA on it.

Justice Maureen Forestall found that Millard had set up a false alibi by leaving his car, a cell phone, and his credit card at Smich’s house and he took a taxi to his father’s house.

MILLARD’S SENTENCE IN HIS FATHER’S DEATH

Following his conviction, Justice Forestall sentenced Millard to his third consecutive life sentence. Thus, Millard will serve 75 years behind bars before he is eligible to apply for parole. This is the longest term of parole ineligibility in the Canadian criminal justice system and the first time that this sentence has been handed down in Ontario.

At the time of sentencing, Justice Forestall stated:

Dellen Millard has repeatedly committed the most serious offence known to our law. He has done so with considerable planning and premeditation. In the murder of his father, he took advantage of the vulnerability of his father and betrayed his father’s trust in him.

In response to Millard’s lawyer argument that the consecutive sentence without parole eligibility is an unduly long and harsh judgement, Justice Forestall stated:

It is necessary to impose a further penalty in order to express society’s condemnation of each of the murders that he has committed and to acknowledge the harm done to each of the victims. It is not unduly long and harsh.

MILLARD’S APPEALS

Two days following Millard’s sentencing, his lawyer filed a notice of appeal with the court. According to Millard’s counsel, it will be argued that the verdict is unreasonable and the sentence is unconstitutional.

Millard will serve 75 years in prison before he will be eligible to apply for parole at 102 years of age.

Millard’s defence attorney argues that the consecutive sentence without parole eligibility is unduly long and harsh.

Millard is also appealing his first-degree murder convictions and sentences in the deaths of Tim Bosma and Laura Babcock.

Millard was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Tim Bosma by a jury in June 2016 after a 16-week trial. Bosma’s burnt remains were found in an incinerator on Millard’s farm. Millard is appealing his conviction. He filed a handwritten notice of appeal with 13 itemized arguments on appeal including the length of the proceedings, that the judge failed to sever his trial from that of his co-accused, that the judge failed to grant his request to move the trial out of Hamilton, that the judge allowed post-offence conduct evidence regarding the incineration of the deceased, that the judge allowed evidence which was seized contrary to his Charter rights protecting him against unreasonable search and seizure, and that the judge should have excluded evidence seized from electronic devices, amongst others.

Millard was also found guilty, by a jury of his peers, of killing his former lover, Laura Babcock, and burning her body in an animal incinerator. He filed an appeal following his sentencing arguing that his first-degree murder conviction was unreasonable and the life sentence was too harsh. He specially claims that the judge forced him to represent himself at the murder trial, despite the fact that Justice John McMahon repeatedly advised him to obtain a lawyer and his trial was adjourned twice to allow Millard to retain counsel.

We will continue to follow any developments in these cases as they make their way through the judicial system and will provide updates in this blog.

In the meantime, to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24 hours a day 7 days a week. We are available when you need us most.

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.

Judge Strikes Down Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Sex Crimes

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A judge from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled that mandatory minimum sentences for two sex offences should not apply in the case of Steevenson Joseph (“Joseph”), a 24-year-old first-time offender, who recruited and photographed two underage prostitutes.

After a three-week trial last February, Joseph was convicted of receiving a benefit from the prostitution of a person under the age of 18-years; procuring a person to offer to provide sexual services believing that the person was 18-years or older; knowingly advertising an offer to provide sexual services for consideration; and of making and possessing child pornography. A jury acquitted him of more serious charges, which included sexual assault and two charges related to underage prostitution.

WHAT HAPPENED?

At the time of the crime, Joseph was 21-years-old and was depressed and lonely. He received information from a friend, who was involved in the sex trade, about how lucrative the business was. He then met a girl, identified in court as C.A., who was a college student and who he believed was 18-years-old. He asked her if she wanted to make money in the sex trade. C.A. testified that Joseph did not pressure her to take part in prostitution. She also introduced her best friend, identified as R.D., to meet Joseph as she was also interested in the sex trade.

Joseph took provactive photos of both girls and posted them on a website that features escort service ads. The girls, who were in fact in high school and under the age of 18 at the time, also used Joseph’s apartment to service clients.

Joseph was caught by police through an Ottawa police sting operation after a girl identified as M.M. contacted Joseph through social media interested in becoming involved in the escort business.  M.M. was 15 years-old.

All three girls testified at trial that they were never pressured by Joseph, that they lied about their ages, and that they decided freely to join the sex trade.

REASONS FOR SENTENCE

At Joseph’s sentencing hearing, the Crown prosecutor argued that Joseph should be sentenced to a 3-and-a-half year jail term, while the defence requested a suspended sentence (ie. defendant serves a period of probation and receives a criminal record).

Joseph’s lawyer argued that given the facts of the case, the minimum penalties would be a form of “cruel and unusual punishment” and should be struck down as unconstitutional.

Justice Colin McKinnon agreed with Joseph’s lawyer and stated that the minimum penalty prescribed by law “for his offences are grossly disproportionate”. He gave him a suspended sentence, one year probation, and the conditions that he report to a probation officer and not communicate with underage girls identified as C.A., R.D. or M.M.

Justice McKinnon also ordered that Joseph’s DNA be taken pursuant to section 487.051 of the Criminal Code and that he be listed on the Sex Offender Registry for his entire life pursuant to section 490.013(2.1) of the Criminal Code.

Justice McKinnon struck down the mandatory minimums for two offences (receiving a benefit from the prostitution of someone under the age of 18 and making and possessing child porn) as unconstitutional.

This decision took into account that Joseph suffered “irreparable damage” due to inflammatory media reports that were based on exaggerated police assertions regarding human trafficking.

Justice McKinnon stated in his reasons for sentence:

I have sent a number of them to penitentiary, including two child pornographers. In stark contrast to those cases, the facts of this case constitute the least serious conduct witnessed by me in the context of prostitution and child pornography cases. …

An objective view of the facts causes me to conclude that Mr. Joseph has been subjected to sufficient punishment.

WHAT ARE MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES?

Canada’s criminal law sets out mandatory minimum penalties as the lowest possible punishment an individual can receive if convicted of a criminal offence in Canada. These are often crimes that are both serious and violent offences. There are currently more than 70 of these provisions in the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The majority of offences found in Canada’s Criminal Code do not have mandatory minimum sentences. In these cases, it is the judge’s discretion to deliver an appropriate sentence.

The codification of mandatory minimums was markedly increased by the former Conservative government in an effort to promote its “tough on crime” agenda.

The Supreme Court of Canada and lower courts have already struck down numerous mandatory minimum sentences related to weapons offences, drug offences, and sexual offences against children as unconstitutional. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided three of these cases (R. v. Nur and R. v. Charles; R. v. Lloyd) and R. v. Morrison is already on the docket to be heard in the near future.

In the current state of criminal law in Canada, millions of dollars are being used to litigate these sentences on a case-by-case basis. This results in inconsistent legal decisions across the country and uncertainty as to which mandatory minimums are valid.

Sentencing in the Joseph case is currently being reviewed by the Crown Law Office in Toronto to determine if the decision will be appealed. We will provide updates in this blog of any developments in this case as they become available.

If you are facing sexual offence charges or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact Durham region criminal defence lawyers Affleck & Barrison LLP. We have a reputation for effective results in defending all types of criminal legal charges. We offer a free initial consultation and a 24-hour phone service.   Contact our office online or at 905-404-1047 to speak with one of our experienced criminal defence lawyers today.

Man Sentenced to Life in Prison After Killing Woman Who Begged for It

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Joseph D’Arcy Schluter (“Schluter”) pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of 2nd-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison in the shooting death of Cindy Enger (“Enger”).

Schluter admitted to fatally shooting Enger in the head 8 times with a .22 calibre firearm on January 22, 2016 after she begged him to kill her.

Both Schluter and Enger expressed their love for each other in a cellphone video taken just minutes before Enger’s death. Enger faced the camera and admitted she wanted to end her life due to pain. Schluter can be heard off-camera telling her that he loves her and Enger replied that she loves him too.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On January 24, 2016, police were called to Enger’s home by her ex-husband after he tried for two days to drop off their son at her home. When there was no response, police forced their way inside Enger’s home and discovered that she was dead.

The Crown prosecutor read an agreed statement of facts in Court before Justice Alan Macleod. According to the statement, Enger had suffered from chronic pain possibly related to a car accident. She had attempted suicide on one previous occasion, but was not successful.

Schluter and Enger had previously dated and then began spending time together again as friends in December, 2015. On numerous occasions, Enger tried to convince Schluter to kill her and make it look like an unsolved homicide. Schluter refused and tried to change Enger’s mind.

Schluter first brought a gun to Enger’s home on January 8, 2016, but he was not able to carry out the plan that they had come up with. Enger continued to beg Schluter to end her life.

On January 22, 2016 on his way to see Enger, Schluter stopped to buy a movie ticket as an alibi. When he arrived at her home, he continued to try to convince Enger to abandon the plan. They proceeded to her laundry room where Schluter inserted ear plugs, said a prayer, and proceeded to shoot Enger in the back of the head several times. Then Schluter vacated the premises, drove to his father’s home and burned his clothing and put the gun away.

Schluter pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after a plea deal was reached between the Crown prosecutor and Schluter’s lawyer. The two lawyers proposed a life sentence without parole for a period of 10 years. The Judge accepted these terms.

In his sentencing submissions, defence lawyer Steve Wojick submitted that this “ is not a case of hate, it is not a case of revenge, it is not a case of jealousy, it is not a case of monetary gain.”

Crown prosecutor Mike Ewenson was sympathetic to the situation that Schluter was in, but felt that he should have reached out for help and sought assistance.

Justice Macleod called the case “a very tragic, tragic event”.

 WHAT IS MURDER?

In Canada, there is no offence more serious than an allegation of homicide. This offence carries with it some of the most serious penalties available, if convicted. Homicide is defined in section 222 of the Criminal Code as follows:

222 (1)          A person commits homicide when, directly or indirectly, by any means, he causes the death of a human being.

According to the Criminal Code, culpable homicide is murder when the person who causes the death either means to cause death or means to cause bodily harm knowing that it is likely to cause death (section 229).

First degree murder is premeditated. In order to be convicted of first degree murder, Crown prosecutors must prove that the accused took the life of another in the following situations:

  • When it is planned and deliberate;
  • When a police officer or prison worker is murdered; or
  • When it occurs during the commission of certain offences, such as sexual assault, kidnapping, hijacking, terrorism, intimidation or certain gang-related activities.

According to the Criminal Code, second degree murder is defined as all other murder other than first degree murder. Second degree murder is a deliberate killing that occurs without planning.

Anyone convicted of murder, in any degree, must be sentenced to imprisonment for life. An adult convicted of second degree murder typically serves prison time of 10 years to 25 years until he/she is eligible for parole, which is at the discretion of the judge. This can be found codified in section 745 of the Criminal Code.

Following time served in prison on a sentence for murder, the individual will continue to report to a parole officer for the rest of his/her life. If any of the conditions set by the court for release on parole are not met, there is no hearing and the individual will return to jail.

If you require a lawyer for any type of homicide offence, or any other serious criminal charge, the lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP can help. Contact our office online or at 905-404-1947 to speak with one of our experienced lawyers who can handle your case. We have a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.

Sexual Offender Sentenced to 15 Years After Putting Woman in Coma

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Denzel Dre Colton Bird, (“Bird”) 21-years-old, pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault, breaking and entering and theft last fall. On June 15, 2018, he was sentenced to 15 years in jail for striking a woman from behind with a metal pipe, dragging her into an alley and sexually assaulting her in Alberta.

The victim cannot be identified under court order.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In September 2016, the 25-year-old woman was walking to work in the dark at approximately 6:30 a.m. when she was attacked by Bird. The attack caused multiple skull fractures and broken facial bones. She was discovered by two men who found her hanging halfway out of a garbage can and was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries. Due to the multiple skull fractures and bleeding on her brain, her doctors put her into a medically induced coma for several weeks. After coming out of her coma, she had to learn how to walk and talk again. She was released from hospital in late January 2017.

Earlier on the morning of the attack, Bird had broken into a garage where he stole the pipe that he used in the attack and a jacket. Police found the victim’s blood on Bird’s shoes and on the stolen jacket.

WHAT HAPPENED DURING SENTENCING?

In her victim impact statement, the woman wrote that there were times that she wished she had not survived the attack. She stated that she did not feel that she is the same person since the attack. She described herself as a survivor, but admitted she continues to struggle with her emotions, has trouble with her balance and contracted a sexually transmitted disease from Bird.

The Crown prosecutor requested 20 years in prison for Bird.

Justice Jerry LeGrandeur sentenced Bird to 15 years in jail. Bird was given 2 ½ years of credit for time already served in jail.

Justice LeGrandeur held that the viciousness of the attack on the woman was an aggravating factor.

The consequences of this criminal act were profoundly physically and mentally disabling for the victim and emotionally traumatic and debilitating for her husband and family members.

LeGrandeur also acknowledged that there were mitigating factors when determining the best sentence for Bird. These factors included his youth, his guilty plea and the fact that he was remorseful.

LeGradeur also referred to the Gladue report during sentencing. This report examines an Indigenous offender’s upbringing and background and how it may have played a part in their actions. Bird’s lawyer submitted that his family were survivors of residential schools, he never met his father, he showed symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, he had substance abuse issues and had never received any counseling or treatment, he was abused as a child and has a lower than average intelligence.

WHAT IS A GLADUE REPORT?

A Gladue report gets its name from the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision R. v. Gladue. A Gladue report is a type of pre-sentencing and bail hearing report that a court can request when considering sentencing an offender of Indigenous background under section 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code. This section specifically directs courts to exercise restraint, and to consider the particular situation of Indigenous persons when determining the sentence to be imposed for crimes committed by those who self-identify as Indigenous people.

A Gladue report will inform the judge about the personal circumstances of the offender, including information such as:

  • where the individual grew up (on-reserve, off-reserve, rural, urban);
  • where the individual lives;
  • whether or not the individual or members of their family have been in foster care;
  • whether the individual or family members attended residential schools;
  • whether they have struggled with substance abuse, been affected by someone else’s substance abuse or grown up in a home with substance abuse or addictions;
  • whether or not there are counseling programs or rehabilitations programs in the community; and
  • whether or not the individual participates in community cultural events and ceremonies.

The intention behind this approach is to lead to a restorative justice remedy and will often allow for a sentence with no jail time, which helps reduce the over-representation of Indigenous people in Canadian jails. According to a Statistics Canada report released on Tuesday, Indigenous people comprised 27% of the federal prison population in 2016-2017 despite the fact that Indigenous people make up only 5% of Canada’s population.

A restorative justice remedy is one that emphasizes healing the harm done by the offence and rehabilitating the offender to avoid future harms. This is in keeping with Indigenous views of justice.

If you have been charged with a sexual assault offence 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.