The Court rejected a joint submission on sentence of 34.7 months of imprisonment for aggravated assault, theft, and various administration of justice offences. The sentence was found to be excessive and likely to bring the administration of justice into disrepute as it failed to comply with the Gladue principles and perpetuated Indigenous over-incarceration, both individually and as a precedent.
An Indigenous accused, a member of the Cree First Nation and the Mistissini community, pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated assault against his sister, theft, a breach of probation related to failing to perform community work, and two breaches of recognizance, that is, consuming alcohol and failing to observe a curfew.
The Court ordered a presentence report and a Gladue report, but it was not prepared due circumstances surrounding the pandemic. The presentence report in this case states that the accused has very bad memories of his childhood. His parents consumed alcohol repeatedly and there was violence almost every day, which was experienced by the accused. As he grew older, he used drugs and alcohol heavily. He attempted suicide and has been heavily medicated to treat his depressive episodes and panic attacks.
The accused remains fragile psychologically. If he returns to the community without first working on his vulnerabilities, the risk of relapse is significant. Several traumas related to his childhood remain unresolved to this day. However, he is able to work well when he is in a safe environment. The accused acknowledges that he needs help and that he is not able to resolve his problems on his own. He is willing to go to therapy at the Waseskun Center, a healing center.
During submissions on sentencing, counsels proposed a sentence totaling 34.7 months of imprisonment, less presentence custody, leaving a residual sentence of two years, as well as 24 months’ supervised probation. Counsels took steps to verify whether the accused could take part in therapy at the Waseskun Center. The Court, however, informed the parties that it questioned compliance with the public interest test established in R v Anthony-Cook,  2 SCR 204 [“Anthony-Cook”] and asked them to make additional submissions on the reasons and circumstances underlying the joint submission.
A trial judge should not depart from a joint submission on sentence unless the proposed sentence would bring the administration of justice into disrepute or is otherwise contrary to the public interest (Anthony-Cook). This Court is of the view that the rejection of the joint submission in this case meets this high threshold. This joint submission for an Aboriginal offender viewed by reasonable and informed persons would be seen as representing a breakdown in the proper functioning of the justice system (R v LaForge, 2020 BCSC 1269).
The sentence proposed in this case is not only excessive, but also likely to bring the administration of justice into disrepute and contrary to the public interest because it does not comply with the obligations set out in s. 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code and Gladue factors (R v Gladue,  1 SCR 688; R v Ipeelee, 2012 SCC 13; R c Diabo, 2018 QCCA 1631; and Denis-Damée c R, 2018 QCCA 1251). Specifically, it does not take into account the accused’s actual moral blameworthiness and fails to consider the other reasonable sanctions available. Because both counsel are experienced and that ratifying their submission would carry weight, it would set a precedent from which the Court finds it important to depart.
Recently, the Court of Appeal for Ontario emphasized the importance of conditional sentences as other available sanctions under s. 718.2(e) with respect to Aboriginal offenders (R v Sharma, 2020 ONCA 478). The Court determined a more appropriate sentence, and along with a conditional sentence order and probation order, there is included the condition that the accused complete six months of therapy at the Waseskun Center to heal his inner wounds, his violence issues, and his alcohol and drug abuse problems.