R v Colligan, 2020 BCSC 1139

Rehabilitation can be critically important even for an offence where denunciation and deterrence warrant the most weight. Despite some aggravating circumstances, the Court decided that a conditional sentence was appropriate after considering Gladue factors.

Indigenous Law Centre CaseWatch Blog

Mr. Colligan was charged with three counts of trafficking cocaine but did not appear in court for his trial. A warrant was issued and executed for his arrest. He entered guilty pleas and was then released on bail, by consent. Currently, Mr. Colligan has completely turned his life around. That is commendable but the fact that he did so while on the lam presents a challenge at the sentencing stage. As well, the illicit sale of cocaine, particularly by way of dial-a-dope operations, takes a terrible toll on individuals and the community.

This Court has the benefit of a detailed and thoughtfully prepared Gladue report. Mr. Colligan self-identifies as Métis. His childhood was marred by trauma and instability. His mother was apprehended for neglect, and became involved with his father when she was a teenager. Mr. Colligan’s father was a drug-addicted member of the Hell’s Angels. He was emotionally, physically and sexually abusive to his mother. Mr. Colligan’s mother became an alcoholic. Mr. Colligan witnessed his father’s abuse of his mother, which culminated in a horrifying attack when he was five years old. He jumped on his father during the attack and ended up being covered in his mother’s blood. His father was charged with attempted murder and fled.

Following her separation from a second partner, Mr. Colligan’s mother reached out to social services for help, hoping it would be temporary. Mr. Colligan was removed from his mother’s care and placed in a series of private foster homes and group homes until he aged out of foster care. Mr. Colligan grew up feeling abandoned by his mother. He himself has had children from different partners, whom he does not have a relationship with.

While on the lam, Mr. Colligan had accumulated an unenviable criminal record consisting of seven youth and 15 adult convictions. However, he broke away from all negative associations when he developed a healthy relationship with his current partner, who now have two young children. Mr. Colligan began attending NA and AA meetings. He found employment in the oil industry and has been steadily employed since that time. As of the date of the sentencing hearing, he was working as a well site supervisor with a production testing company and had an annual income of $180,000. He is the sole income earner for his family. He works in a drug-free environment and is subject to mandatory drug testing. After some initial set-backs, with the support of his family, NA, AA and some counselling funded by his employee assistance program, Mr. Colligan has been clean and sober for a number of years.Mr. Colligan’s self-reports of his changed lifestyle are supported by a number of letters of support from his partner, friends and co-workers.

Mr. Colligan is disconnected from his Métis heritage. That was the goal of Canada’s historic assimilationist policies. Looking forward, Mr. Colligan hopes to connect with his Métis heritage. He has applied for a Métis citizenship card. He hopes that understanding more about his heritage and culture will help him to build his self-esteem, re-instate his value system and continue to lead a pro-social life.

In this case there are a number of aggravating factors. Mr. Colligan has a significant prior record, including convictions for possession for the purpose of trafficking. Mr. Colligan committed the offences at issue shortly after completing his 14-month custodial sentence for his prior trafficking convictions. He was a principal participant in an active and ongoing dial-a-dope operation, that demonstrates a level of sophistication in the operation. As well, Mr. Colligan evaded justice for almost six years.

The case law clearly establishes that denunciation and deterrence are the primary sentencing principles in a case such as this. A fit sentence must recognize the particularly harmful effects of trafficking cocaine by way of dial-a-dope operations and discourage flight from justice. At the same time, the Court must not lose sight of the importance of rehabilitation in providing for the long-term protection of the community. Canada’s assimilation policies have had a profoundly negative effect on Mr. Colligan and his family. As a result, Mr. Colligan developed a drug addiction that led directly to his past criminal lifestyle. He has overcome many hurdles and barriers to completely turn his life around and is now taking responsibility for his actions.

While Mr. Colligan must be punished for his offences and not rewarded for absconding, he is in the process of breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma and dysfunction that has so negatively affected so many Indigenous families, including his own. Sending Mr. Colligan to jail would leave his children without their father for a significant period of time and vulnerable to poverty and dislocation. A highly restrictive conditional sentence is ordered of two years less one day and will adequately address denunciation and deterrence, particularly in view of Mr. Colligan’s reduced level of moral blameworthiness.

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