sentencing

Police Officer Sentenced to 12 Months in Jail for Death of Woman in Custody

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A new decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, and for the first time in Canada, a police officer has been convicted and sentenced for failing to provide medical assistance to an individual in their custody.

In November 2019, London Police Constable Nicholas Doering (“Doering”) was convicted of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life in the death of Debralee Chrisjohn (“Chrisjohn”).

THE FACTS

On September 7, 2016, Chrisjohn, while in police custody, died of a heart attack as a result of having consumed a toxic level of methamphetamine.

A video of Chrisjohn being taken into the Ontario Provincial Police detachment showed her to be limp, silent and demonstrating no signs of movement.  She was witnessed to being dragged into a cell.  At that point, EMS was called, however, by the time they arrived they were unable to save her life.

Chrisjohn was in the custody of Constable Doering, who had arrested her for an outstanding OPP warrant, and transferred Chrisjohn to OPP custody. 

At his trial, Constable Doering testified that he did not believe that Chrisjohn required medical attention and was simply suffering from the effects of methamphetamine.  According to the defence, Constable Doering made an error in judgement that was reasonable based upon his experience with methamphetamine users and his conversation with an EMS supervisor early on in her detention.  Doering denied that he deliberately misled OPP officers.

The following facts were admitted by Constable Doering at his trial:

  • Chrisjohn was unable to provide herself with the necessaries of life while in the custody of Constable Doering;
  • Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant drug and users often experience confused cognitive function, paranoia, elevated sensory stimulation and agitation and restlessness;
  • Medical treatment is available for those who have ingested methamphetamine, which typically includes monitoring and treating the user’s symptoms in a hospital until the effects have dissipated;
  • Medical treatment is not always warranted for those who experience side-effects from using methamphetamines;
  • If treatment or intervention is required, the sooner treatment is received the better;
  • On September 7, 2016, Chrisjohn required medical treatment due to the effects of using methamphetamines at the time of her transfer to the OPP;
  • Chrisjohn was in a critical state and required urgent medical intervention from the time of her arrival at the Elgin OPP detachment and onwards;
  • The delay in providing Chrisjohn with medical treatment impacted her chance of survival.  If she had received medical attention prior to the arrival of EMS at the Elgin OPP detachment, she may have survived.

THE ALLEGATIONS AND CRIMINAL OFFENCES

At trial, Crown prosecutors alleged that Constable Doering knowingly provided false and incomplete information regarding Chrisjohn’s medical condition to the OPP when he transferred custody and told OPP that she had been medically cleared.  Thus, demonstrating a wanton and reckless disregard for her life and providing the elements of criminal negligence causing death.  Furthermore, it was alleged that Constable Doering’s behaviour was a marked and substantial departure from the standard of care of a reasonable and prudent police officer.

Section 215 of the Criminal Code outlines the offence of failing to provide the necessaries of life.  According to the law, where a person is in charge of another, he/she has a duty to provide the necessaries of life.  The standard is not of perfection. The Crown prosecutor must prove that there was a marked departure from that of a reasonably prudent person having charge of another, in circumstances where it is reasonably foreseeable that a failure to provide the necessaries of life would lead to a risk of danger to the life of the victim.

Section 219 of the Criminal Code outlines the offence of criminal negligence.  This offence requires proof that the accused did something or failed to do something that was his/her legal duty to do that demonstrates a wanton and reckless disregard for the lives and safety of others.  The offence also requires that the accused’s conduct was a marked and substantial departure from the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would observe in the circumstances.

Justice Pomerance, in her reasons for judgement, stated:

The evidence in this case suggests that stereotypes and generalized assumptions played a role in the events leading to Ms. Chrisjohn’s death.  …

In short, Cst. Doering had pre-conceived notions about drug users and he held fast to those notions when dealing with Ms. Chrisjohn.  Rather than moulding his theory to fit the facts, he seems to have moulded the facts to fit his theory. …

I am satisfied that a reasonably prudent police officer would have appreciated the need for medical assistance at the time of the transfer to the OPP, if not before, and would have been aware of the risk that failure to obtain such medical assistance would endanger Ms. Chrisjohn’s life. 

Justice Pomerance found that Constable Doering failed to provide Chrisjohn with the necessaries of life and in providing erroneous and incomplete information about Chrisjohn’s medical condition to OPP demonstrated a wanton and reckless disregard for her life, thus contributing to Chrisjohn’s death.  He was therefore found guilty of criminal negligence causing death.

Justice Renee Pomerance sentenced Constable Doering to 12 months in jail.  In her sentencing decision, she stated:

The sentence must convey the irrefutable message that Ms. Chrisjohn’s life was valued and valuable. … [I]n some cases, loss of life will, practically and symbolically, command the most significant form of penalty. This is one of those cases.

Constable Doering has been suspended from his duties with the London Police with pay and is currently appealing the decision. 

We will continue to follow this criminal case as it makes its way through the appeal process and will report any developments in this blog.

If you are facing a drug related charge or have any questions regarding your legal rights, 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.

Reduced Sentence for Drunk Driver Who Killed Three

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The driver of a vehicle who was involved in deadly car accident has had his sentence reduced from nine years to seven years by the Ontario Court of Appeal who found that the trial judge erred in reviewing punishments imposed in similar cases.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On April 10, 2016, Prithvi Randhawa (“Randhawa”), 22 years-old at the time, drove his vehicle, including four friends, at a high rate of speed through a residential neighbourhood after a night of drinking at Luxy night club in Concord.  Randhawa was found to have twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system.

Travelling at 135 km/h on Jane Street, Randhawa collided with a traffic signal pole near Sheppard Avenue West, the vehicle went airborne and crashed upside down.  The four passengers were all ejected from the vehicle.  Three of them died and one was serious injured.  The passengers ranged in age between 19 to 24 years-old.

The surviving passenger, Atul Verma, suffered a traumatic brain injury, a fractured ankle, knee damage, a lacerated liver and lumbar spine fractures.  At the time of the trial, he continued to suffer from constant pain, sleepless nights and the deprivation of some of the activities that he used to enjoy.

As a result of the crash, Randhawa sustained a traumatic brain injury and collapsed lung.   He regained consciousness in hospital two days following the accident.  Due to the injuries he suffered, he lost all memory of the events starting from his time inside the nightclub until he regained consciousness.

Randhawa was found guilty of three counts of impaired driving causing death and one count of impaired driving causing bodily harm.  Justice James Chaffe sentenced him to nine years in jail and a driving ban of 93 months.

Justice Chaffe reviewed three similar cases before imposing a sentence.  He held that Randhawa’s conduct was “egregious” and worse than the cases he reviewed. One of the cases reviewed by Justice Chaffe was the sentencing of Marco Muzzo who killed three children and their grandfather while impaired in 2016.  The sentence Justice Chaffe imposed on Randhawa was a year less than the sentence in the Muzzo case.

THE APPEAL

Randhawa appealed Justice Chaffe’s sentencing decision arguing that the trial judge erred in determining his sentence within the ranges available.  More specifically, it was argued that the sentencing judge failed to consider or misconstrued facts regarding other similar cases when considering an appropriate sentence.

On behalf of the Court of Appeal, Justice Nordheimer found that Justice Chaffe failed to explain why Randhawa’s offence was worse than two of the cases that he had reviewed.  Justice Nordheimer stated:

I am unable to find a basis upon which the sentencing judge’s finding could be supported.  This is of concern because, as I have said, it is this finding that clearly drove the sentencing judge to determine that a sentence of nine years was appropriate.

Justice Nordheimer ruled that Randhawa’s conduct was most similar to two of the cases under consideration, involving impairment, driving too fast and multiple deaths.  Justice Nordheimer also found that the sentencing judge failed to give consideration to Randhawa’s young age and the fact that Randhawa suffered very serious injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, in the crash.

Randhawa also argued that the sentencing judge did not consider that he will be facing numerous civil lawsuits arising from the accident, and subject to large judgments.  Justice Nordheimer did not find this to be an error made by the sentencing judge and is not a mitigating factor that is required to be considered when determining a sentence.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Alexandra Hoy was of the opinion that the sentencing decision was appropriate.  She felt that it was within Justice Chaffe’s discretion to conclude that Randhawa’s conduct was more egregious than the drivers in two of the cases.  Furthermore, Randhawa was driving even faster than Muzzo and in a busier area.  She also made note that Randhawa had a worse driving record than Muzzo, including infractions for speeding and running a red light. 

If you have been charged with a driving related offence or have questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal defence lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  Our skilled criminal defence lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights.  We offer a free consultation and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Trust our experienced criminal lawyers to handle your defence with diligence, strategy and expertise.

Alberta Court of Appeal Sets Minimum Sentencing for Fentanyl Trafficking

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

As the country copes with the opioid crisis, the highest court in Alberta has now set a new sentencing starting point for those convicted of fentanyl trafficking.  The court recognized the peril that Alberta is in and stressed that it is up to the courts “to protect the public by imposing sentences that will alter the cost-benefit math performed by high-level fentanyl traffickers”.

A special five-justice panel of the Alberta Court of Appeal heard two appeals by the Crown prosecutor regarding fentanyl trafficking and unanimously ruled that convictions for wholesale fentanyl trafficking should receive a minimum sentence of nine years.

THE APPEAL DECISION REGARDING CAMERON PARRANTO

Last year, Cameron O’Lynn Parranto (“Parranto”), who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for trafficking in fentanyl in Edmonton.  Police seized the equivalent of a half-million doses of fentanyl.

Parranto pleaded guilty to possession for the purpose of trafficking in fentanyl and other drugs for two sets of offences. 

After a search warrant was executed at Parranto’s home, police recovered 27.8 grams of fentayl, 182.5 grams of methamphetamine, 82.6 grams of cocaine, 396 morphine pills and 168 oxycodone pills.  They also found $55,575 in cash, a loaded handgun, ammunition, police and sheriff badges, body armour, a dozen cell phones, scales and a cash counter.

Following Parranto’s release for his first set of offences, he was arrested three months later when greater quantities of fentanyl, methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, oxycodone and the date rape drug GHB were uncovered. 

Parranto pleaded guilty to both sets of offences and was handed an 11-year sentence for eight offences, five years for the March 2016 offences and 6 years for the October 2016 offences. 

The court of appeal increased Parranto’s sentence to 14 years, minus credit of 3 ½ years for pre-sentence custody.

THE APPEAL DECISION REGARDING PATRICK FELIX

Earlier this year, Patrick Felix (“Felix”), a wholesale drug trafficker in Fort McMurray, was sentenced to 7 years in prison for his role in trafficking fentanyl after pleading guilty.  Investigators seized approximately $1 million worth of drugs and 3,000 fentanyl pills.

Felix obtained drugs and stored them at a “stash” location.  He employed “runners” to take orders, retrieve the drugs from the stash location and complete the deals.  “Food bosses” were also used to manage the runners, collect money from the sales and then provide Felix with the proceeds.

In 2015, Felix sold drugs to an undercover police officer on six separate occasions.  Felix provided 2,388 fentanyl pills and 2.5 kilograms of cocaine for a total price of $173,400. 

At trial, Felix pleaded guilty to four counts of trafficking in fentanyl and cocaine.  He was sentenced to seven years for each count of fentanyl trafficking and four years for each count of cocaine trafficking to be served concurrently.  A concurrent sentence occurs when all sentences are served at the same time, with the longest sentence period controlling the length of time in jail. 

The Crown prosecutor appealed the sentence and requested that the appeal court establish a minimum sentence for those convicted of wholesale trafficking in opioids.  On appeal, the Crown also argued that the trial judge made “case-specific errors that affected the fitness of the sentence imposed”. 

At the appeal, Justice Antonio wrote that the sentence imposed by the trial judge was “demonstrably unfit” in part due to the judge’s failure to distinguish between commercial trafficking and wholesale trafficking and failing to take into account Felix’s role in the organization.

Justice Antonio, writing on behalf of all the judges on the bench, stated:

Mr. Felix’s role was at the top of his organization, which is a weighty aggravating factor.  He energetically ran a business that was structured to maximize profit while minimizing the chance of criminal consequences to himself.  He was responsible for pouring poison into his own community and potentially others, jeopardizing the health and lives of untold numbers of end users.

Trafficking in cocaine has a four-and-a-half year starting point for sentencing.  A starting point for sentencing of a low-level commercial dealer of heroin is typically five years. 

The court will take into account the dangerousness of the drug and the scale of the offender’s involvement in the drug operation when establishing a minimum sentence for those convicted.  The court of appeal found that wholesale trafficking is more morally blameworthy than commercial trafficking as it presents a grave danger to individuals, communities and the greater public interest.  The appeal court defined wholesale trafficking as one that traffics large amounts of one or more drugs or distributes drugs on a large scale, possibly for resale.

Given the appeal court’s comments, the Crown was successful on appeal and set a starting point for those found guilty of commercial trafficking at nine years.  Felix’s overall sentence was increased by the court to 10 years.

If you have been charged with a drug related charge or have questions regarding 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. 

Man Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison for Impaired Operation of Canoe

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last summer, David Sillars (“Sillars”), became the first Canadian to be convicted of impaired driving charges while paddling a canoe.  He was recently sentenced to six years in prison for the April 2017 death of an eight-year-old boy.

We have previously blogged about a landmark ruling by an Ontario judge who decided that a canoe is a “vessel” for the purposes of the definition of vessel found in the Criminal Code of Canada, which includes the criminal charges of impaired operation of a vessel causing death, operation of a vessel over 80, and the dangerous operation of a vessel.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On April 7, 2017, Sillars took his girlfriend’s son, Thomas Rancourt (“Rancourt”), for a canoe ride down the Muskoka River to teach him how to paddle a canoe.  Sillars was intending to paddle in the direction of and to retrieve a blue barrel, which appeared to be wedged against a barrier by debris.  The canoe capsized and Rancourt was swept downriver and went over a waterfall at High Falls, and then drowned.  Sillars, on the other hand, swam safely to the shore.

In his lengthy decision, Justice Peter C. West set out the following key findings of fact based upon the evidence presented in court:

  • Temperatures were between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius on April 7, 2017;
  • School buses were cancelled due to slush and ice, resulting in poor road conditions on April 7, 2017;
  • The majority of the ice on the river had melted, although small chunks were visible, resulting in a reasonable inference that the river water was extremely cold;
  • The water levels of the river were very high on April 7, 2017;
  • The current in the river was fast-flowing and extremely strong;
  • The yellow barrier is a warning to caution boaters of the danger created by the water flowing towards the High Falls;
  • Sillars was cautioned by two experienced individuals who warned him of the dangerous water conditions;
  • Sillars did not agree to take or wear an adult sized lifejacket;
  • The PDF worn by Rancourt was too small for him, especially given that he was wearing three layers of clothing beneath it, including his winter jacket;
  • Sillars had consumed alcohol and THC prior to operating the canoe on April 7, 2017;
  • Sillars intention was to paddle to the yellow barrier to retrieve a blue barrel, which was clearly wedged in debris and partially submerged; and
  • Rancourt looked up to Sillars as a father figure, and this relationship created a duty of care for Sillars towards Rancourt.

Based upon the evidence, the court ruled that:

David Sillars’ decision to canoe towards the yellow warning barrier, during the spring run-off with the described dangers and risks…, with the sole purpose to retrieve a blue barrel, partially submerged and wedged against the yellow warning barrier by other debris, was a significant contributing cause of Thomas Rancourt’s death.  …[B]ut for the decision of Mr. Sillars to go to the yellow barrier, Thomas Rancourt would not have fallen out of the canoe and wound not have gone over the waterfalls and drowned. 

With respect to the issue of impaired paddling, the court considered whether Sillars’ drinking impaired his ability to operate a canoe (Sillars’ minimum blood-alcohol content was 128 milligrams of alcohol in 100 mililitres of blood and he had 14 nanograms of THC in his blood).  The court concluded that Sillars’ intellectual abilities, specifically his reaction time, decision making abilities and his ability to respond to an emergency situation, were impaired by his consumption of alcohol.

The fact that Sillars ignored warnings by two individuals as to the potential danger of canoeing in the conditions on the river, refused to wear an adult lifejacket and failed to bring the required safety equipment in the canoe demonstrated to the court that he overestimated his canoeing abilities and underestimated the level of risk he was enduring, which further demonstrated how the alcohol and marijuana impaired his decision making abilities.

THE SENTENCING

Justice West found Sillars guilty of all four charges he was facing and was sentenced in October, 2019.  The Crown asked the court for a jail sentence of six to eight years and an order prohibiting Sillars from operating a vessel for 20 years.  Sillars’ defence team asked the court for a two-year jail term.

Justice West described numerous aggravating factors that he considered when deciding on the terms of Sillars’ sentence.  The fact that Sillars was in a position of trust and authority in relation to Rancourt was one such factors, as well as his previous criminal record. 

In his reasons, Justice West commented on how this is a “unique” case as there are no precedent cases of criminal negligence causing death or impaired operation causing death in the case of a capsized canoe.  However, Justice West used precedent cases of those who have been found guilty of operating a motor vehicle while impaired and sentenced Sillars to six years in prison, an order requiring that samples of bodily substances be taken for the purposes of forensic DNA analysis  and an order prohibiting Sillars from operating a vessel for 10 years.

Justice West stated:

In my view general deterrence and denunciation are particularly important in cases where alcohol or drugs have impacted an offender’s ability, as in this case, to operate a vessel and the factor that a motor vehicle was not … involved makes no difference.

Sillars has already filed an appeal and has been released on $1,500 bail pending his appeal.  He must remain at home under house arrest and abstain from drinking alcohol. 

We will continue to follow any developments that may arise in this case and will report any updates in this blog.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact Affleck Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  We offer a free consultation and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Trust our experienced criminal lawyers to handle your defence with diligence, strategy and expertise.

Supreme Court Rules that Offender Has the Right to Lesser of Two Penalties Available at the Time of Commission of the Offence or Sentencing

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

In a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, the Court determined that a convicted individual is entitled to the lesser of two punishments, either the one in effect when the offence took place or the one in effect at the time of sentencing.  This decision overturned the Quebec court’s decision that a convicted offender has the right to the least harsh punishment in effect from the time of the offence until the sentencing.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In the case of R. v. Poulin, the accused was convicted in 2016 of sexual assault and acts of gross indecency from incidents occurring between 1979 to 1987.  Poulin was found guilty of offences against a child between the ages of seven and fifteen.  Crown prosecutors asked for a prison term of 3 ½ to 5 years.  Poulin’s defence team requested a conditional sentence given Poulin’s advanced age (82 at the time) and his poor health.  A Quebec court sentenced Poulin to a conditional sentence of two years less a day, to be served in the community, for the charges of gross indecency.

The Crown was unsuccessful in its appeal to the Quebec Court of Appeal and the decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

At issue in this appeal was the interpretation of section 11(i) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which reads as follows:

11.  Any person charged with an offence has the right:

(i) if found guilty of the offence and if the punishment for the offence has been varied between the time of commission and the time of sentencing, to the benefit of the lesser punishment.

The question is whether this provision signifies a comparison of the lesser sentence at two relevant times (i.e. the commission of the offence and the sentencing of the offence) or whether the provision signifies a consideration of variations between the time of the commission of the offence and the sentence.

The judges of the Supreme Court split their decision 4-3 and concluded that Poulin was not eligible for the conditional sentence as it did not exist either at the time of the offence or at the time of his sentencing (it only existed temporarily between these two points in time).

Justice Shellah Martin, writing on behalf of the majority of the court, stated:

The legal rights reflected in our Charter represent the core tenents of fairness in our criminal justice system.  The right to comb the past for the most favourable punishment does not belong among these rights. 

The majority of the court found that the language of section 11(i) of the Charter suggested the application of a “binary approach”, as opposed to a “global approach”.  The binary approach would not permit Poulin to be granted a conditional sentence as it was neither in force at the time of commission or at the time of his sentence. The global approach would permit Poulin to be granted a conditional sentence because it was in force for a period of time between the commission of the crimes and his sentence. 

HOW ARE SENTENCES IMPOSED?

If an accused either pleads guilty or is found guilty at trial, a Judge must impose a sentence that is fair given the circumstances of the offence, the seriousness of the offence and the offender’s degree of responsibility.

The Court will consider both aggravating and mitigating factors relating to both the offender and the offence itself. 

Aggravating factors are those that the court relies upon which may increase the sentence, which may include:

  • Your criminal record;
  • The facts of the offence (i.e. your role in the crime, whether you have committed the crime on multiple occasions, whether a weapon was used and how, whether property was damaged or money was taken);
  • The impact of the crime on the victims (i.e. whether the crime involved a person under the age of 18 years, whether the victim’s health was seriously harmed, whether the victim received permanent physical or psychological injury, whether the victim experienced financial harm due to the crime); and
  • Your association with other criminal organizations (i.e. the crime was committed for the benefit of a criminal organization or committed as an act of terrorism).

Mitigating factors are those that the court relies upon to lighten the sentence, which may include:

  • The absence of a criminal record;
  • The facts of your offence (i.e. your role in the crime, co-operation when you were arrested, addiction or mental health issues);
  • How you’ve behaved since the crime (i.e. whether you have taken steps to address addiction or mental health issues, whether you have followed the release order or volunteered or given money to charity to repair the damage you have caused); and
  • Your personal circumstances (i.e. age, health, cultural background, education, work history and potential work opportunities, children and dependents).

The Court will take all of these factors into account when determining an appropriate sentence in an effort to maintain a just and safe society for all Canadians.

If you have been charged with a criminal 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 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.

Court of Appeal to Judge How to Weigh Systemic Racism When Sentencing Black Offenders

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Later this month, the Ontario Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear a case where the Crown prosecutor is challenging the “lenient” 15-month sentence given to a black Toronto man for carrying a loaded firearm.  Many are expecting that the judgment in this appeal will provide guidance to trial judges on how systemic and background factors are to be applied during the sentencing of black offenders, and potentially all other minorities, in Canada.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In 2014, the police were called regarding a home invasion in Scarborough.  At the scene, the police came upon four black males walking in the parking lot.  When an officer stopped the young men, Kevin Morris (“Morris”) ran.  After a chase, Morris was apprehended by police and his jacket, which he left in a stairwell during the chase, contained a loaded handgun. 

A jury found Morris guilty last September of possession of an unauthorized firearm, possession of a prohibited firearm with ammunition, and carrying a concealed weapon. 

Superior Court Justice Shaun Nakatsuru sentenced Kevin Morris (“Morris”), a 26-year-old first-time offender, to 15 months in custody due to the disadvantages and systemic black racism he faced growing up in Toronto. 

Justice Nakatsuru described the sentence as “lenient” and reasoned that this type of sentence was to address “one small step at a time, the problem of the disproportionate incarceration of black offenders”. Morris’ sentence was reduced to 1 year for various Charter breaches.

According to court documents, Morris was raised by a single mother in a neighbourhood that experienced violence and criminal activity.  Morris never graduated from high school and admitted that he felt unsafe travelling to work as he had to enter rivaling neighbourhoods.  He was diagnosed with PTSD and paranoia in 2013 after being stabbed for a third time. 

The Crown prosecutor had requested a four to four and a half year sentence for Morris arguing that illegal gun possession results in the “often immeasurable” human cost of gun crimes.

Morris’ defence lawyers requested a 12-month sentence and submitted an expert report outlining the impact of crime and criminal justice on black Canadians.  The report detailed how black Canadians experience obstacles in pursing educationa nd employment, and explained about discrimination in social services.

Morris’ lawyer, Faisal Mirza, stated:

It’s clear to everyone in the Toronto area that there are disproportionate numbers of young black men that are prosecuted and sentenced by judges based on pretty rudimentary information on who they are, where they came from, and why they got to the point of committing the crime they are being sentenced for.

Justice Nakatsuru wrote in his decision:

In our system, a sentence is not just about the crime.  It must also be about the offender.

As the legal system runs today, the courts are required to take into account the backgrounds of Indigenous offenders when sentencing, paying specific attention to systemic or historical factors such as residential schools and systemic racism.  A victory for Morris at his appeal may lead to a similar requirement requiring the courts to take into account the impact of race and culture on black offenders in Canada. 

INTERVENERS IN MORRIS’ APPEAL

At the Court of Appeal, there are 14 interveners that have been granted permission to provide joint submissions to the court on the subject of systemic racism, including human and civil rights activists, ethnic organizations and legal clinics.  Several interveners are asking the court to allow culture assessments to apply to all minority groups, not only black offenders.

Interveners in criminal proceedings must receive permission to provide submissions to the court and are typically only granted permission sparingly.  Chief Justice George Strathy wrote in his decision to allow interveners to weigh in on the appeal in the Morris case:

But the issues that arise in this appeal transcend the interests of the parties and are of significance to the administration of criminal justice.  The proposed interveners are well-recognized organizations with experience and expertise in the issues raised in this appeal.  They can offer perspectives that are different from those provided by the Crown and the respondent.

The Black Legal Action Centre and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers are entering a joint submission at the appeal and on their behalf Johnathan Shime states:

This case represents an opportunity for the Ontario Court of Appeal to consider what role race and, more particularly, anti-black racism should play in sentencing of offenders. 

The appeal is scheduled for September 24, 2019 in Toronto.  We will report the results of this potentially ground breaking appeal decision in this blog when it becomes available.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a crime or have questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  We maintain a 24-hour call service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.

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.