February 24, 2015 - 12:35 PM
Judging by the comments we’ve received and noticed elsewhere, there’s an outrage boiling in Kamloops over the sentence and then appeal for a local man who struck and killed a woman in a crosswalk with his pickup truck in 2012. His six-month jail sentence was just reduced to house arrest, in part because a Supreme Court justice said the sentencing judge failed to consider the driver’s native heritage.
Now before you take up your torches and pitch forks, lets see if we can define this outrage a little clearer, break it down and try to understand it.
Is it: A: Because the judges are typical bleeding hearts? B: Because the driver has never had a licence but was driving and has driven numerous times before and since. C: Because our traffic laws suck? D: Because the driver got a ‘lighter’ sentence because he’s native? E: Just because he’s native? (wink, wink) Or F: Because there’s a general ignorance about our laws and that’s never stopped anyone from spouting off about them.
Ok, so F doesn’t make much sense in this context, but I suspect it will.
The background: Donald Isadore, as I mentioned, has never had a licence to drive but that never stopped him from driving. Apparently he was going to the casino. Why that’s important, nobody knows, though it does make it a more colourful story. Did I mention Isadore is First Nations?
In November 2012 he hit and killed 66-year-old Valerie Brook, who was trying to cross the road in a crosswalk. He was turning left into the intersection when he hit her going pretty fast. It was a tragic outcome. Her family was devastated as one might expect. Police investigated and found it was an accident. Isadore was charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian. And driving while prohibited.
That’s it. The impact of a violation or crime isn’t really taken into account in sentencing. It’s more complicated than that, but in this case, Isadore was simply charged with failing to yield. It’s hard not to focus on the tragic outcome, but that’s how it must be done by an impartial judge and we all would expect the same if we accidentally killed someone. In Kamloops that year, 55 traffic incidents involved pedestrians—a bad year. Should we line up all those drivers and call for some good ol’ street justice?
What complicated or aggravated this traffic violation was that Isadore had several traffic violations and rarely complied with court orders. That’s why judge Stella Frame gave him far more than a simple fine. She sentenced him to six months in jail because three weeks before the accident, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail, a fine and a driving prohibition for driving will prohibited. He didn't get the message last time so she hit him hard with six months. Makes sense.
Isadore appealed his sentence arguing Frame didn’t take into account his native background when she opted to put him behind bars. Now if I was so inclined to stir up an anti-native ignorance/racism among my readership, I could bleat on about this without explanation, but hey, while we’re here, lets take a look at this. It is one of the most misunderstood (willfully?) facets of law that draws no end of outrage, usually along the lines of: We should all be equal under the law! We’re all humans! No special laws for some!
And who could argue with that. It’s right there in our constitution, Section 15: We are all equal under the law. But there is a second part to that section that makes special provisions for certain groups, particularly vulnerable people. It’s how we create special laws to protect minors, for example. We protect women in domestic relationships and in sexual assault cases.
If you agree we should have special provisions for vulnerable people, then you probably should support that we have a special observance for First Nations people. We have good reason. We recognize that our laws and our society played a direct role in the near destruction of their culture. First Nations make up just three per cent of our population but an astounding 20 per cent of the prison population. Something is wrong there. Debate the effectiveness of that, please, because there's got to be more that we can do. But it’s tough to argue the logic of how we arrived at that conclusion.
Justice Allison Beames looked at this case through that lens and determined that putting Isadore behind bars for six months isn’t the best idea. Instead he should serve a longer period under house arrest. I wasn't there, but I may presume she hoped for some restorative measures. Who knows.
So I’ll answer my own questions. A: No, both judges made a careful reasoning and their decisions are nothing unusual. B: Tough to feel sympathy for a guy who just doesn't get it, but his 'crime' is hardly exceptional other than the outcome. It's not like he was drunk, right? C: Our traffic laws are roughly what we expect for other people AND ourselves. D: I understand and support that reasoning with all factors considered. E: Not this kid.
That leaves just F. How about you?
— Marshall Jones is the editor of infonews.ca
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