The Court rejected a joint sentencing proposal of 27 months in prison followed by probation for arson related to the burning of a vehicle and a convenience store. Counsel failed to meaningfully consider the Gladue principles and the sentence itself would contribute to systemic discrimination against Indigenous people rather than amelioration. A sentence of time served in custody was imposed instead, which will now be followed by a probation order.
Mr. Laforge drove his vehicle into the front window of a 7-Eleven convenience store in Salmon Arm, British Columbia. He then exited his vehicle and poured gasoline into the cab. After everyone left the store, Mr. Laforge then lit his vehicle on fire. The fire spread quickly, causing extensive damage.
Mr. Laforge had been in custody for 548 days by the date of his sentencing hearing. Both counsel gave a joint proposal for a 27-month custodial sentence plus three years of probation. Mr. Laforge has Métis heritage and has been diagnosed with a schizophrenic illness. He did not want to hurt anyone or burn the 7-Eleven down, but to bring attention to his struggles, in particular, his delusional belief that he was being interfered with by intrusive brain-altering and perception-altering technologies.
The Court had the benefit of two well prepared reports, namely a pre-sentence report (“PSR”) prepared by a community corrections officer and a forensic psychiatric report, however, a Gladue report was not submitted. Mr. Laforge suffered abuse as a child and bullying in highschool for his Indigenous appearance. He used drugs extensively and eventually dropped out of school. He has only recently learned of his Métis ancestry, as his father was impacted by the “Sixties Scoop”. He has limited work experience and has a history of mental health problems, posing a moderate to high risk to reoffend without assistance from treatment and supports.
Restorative sentences may be more appropriate for Indigenous offenders, but taking a restorative approach will not necessarily lead to a reduced sentence. Generally, the more serious or violent the crime, the more likely it will be, as a practical matter, that the terms of imprisonment will be the same for an Indigenous and a non-Indigenous offender.
Arson is a serious offence. For sentencing purposes, arsonists can generally be divided into four types: pyromaniacs or persons suffering from mental illness; people who burn for no special reason; vandals; and people who burn for revenge or financial gain. Of these, persons who are suffering from mental illness are often considered to have the lowest level of moral blameworthiness while those who commit arson for revenge or financial gain are generally considered to have the highest (R v KH, (1994) 146 NBR (2d) 372 (CA)).
Given Mr. Laforge’s Indigenous heritage, mental health issues and highly reduced level of moral blameworthiness, the joint submission seems overly harsh, in that it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute or would otherwise be contrary to the public interest (R v Anthony-Cook, 2016 SCC 43).