R v Lerat, 2020 SKPC 30

The Court sentenced Mr. Lerat to four years imprisonment for unlawful confinement and aggravated assault. His moral blameworthiness was impacted by a number of Gladue factors, but a penitentiary term of imprisonment was nevertheless warranted. A careful and merciful balancing of the constellation of relevant sentencing principles and factors in this case favoured a custodial disposition at the low end of the range.

Indigenous Law Centre – CaseWatch Blog

Wade Morris Lerat entered a guilty plea to aggravated assault contrary to section 268(1) of the Criminal Code and unlawful confinement contrary to section 279(2) of the Criminal Code. With accomplices, Mr. Lerat drove to a residence, where he attacked his uncle, Kevin Gambler, and severely beat him. Mr. Gambler was then loaded into Mr. Lerat’s vehicle, where they drove towards the “Gambler Graveyard” on Muscowpetung First Nation, approximately two miles from the residence. There is nothing else in that area. Mr. Gambler was then told he was going to be killed and buried in the graveyard. Mr. Gambler feared for his life and tried escaping the vehicle multiple times, only to be caught, restrained and further beaten, eventually with a metal bar. Mr. Gambler was then abandoned in the vehicle when it became stuck in mud. Mr. Gambler remained in the vehicle for an hour before walking to a residence to seek help.

A modified sentencing hearing was held for Mr. Lerat in Fort Qu’Appelle. The sentencing hearing included statements from members of the community that spoke to Mr. Lerat and how he has conducted himself since being placed on electronic monitoring. No recommendations were given, thereby determination of a fit sentence falls to the discretion of the sentencing judge. Mr. Lerat is a member of the Muscowpetung First Nation and descends from the Saulteaux people. Given that Mr. Lerat is an Indigenous offender, section 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code must be taken into consideration in determining a fit sentence for him (R v Ipeelee, 2012 SCC 13, 280 CCC (3d) 265).

Mr. Lerat comes from a family upbringing marred with alcohol use and poverty. He has experienced racism and disconnection. Around the age of 16, Mr. Lerat began struggling with drug and alcohol use. He is 36 years old and lives with his wife and nine children. He works for the Muscowpetung First Nation, assisting the Elders. Before the incident, Mr. Lerat was heavily involved with his community, organizing sports teams and tournaments, including hockey and fastball. Since the incident, Mr. Lerat has chosen to embrace his Indigenous heritage and has become more involved through practices such as smudging. He also continues to practice his Christian faith with the help of his Pastor, who is also an Aboriginal Protector. Since being on release, Mr. Lerat has taken treatment at Leading Thunderbird Lodge and with the National Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program worker on Muscowpetung First Nation. He has been sober for the past four years since the incident.

Mr. Lerat has six previous convictions on his criminal record which date back to 2008. However, Mr. Lerat does not have any violent offences on his record, and he has not been incarcerated. While Mr. Lerat may suffer from FASD, there is nothing in the record or evidence that suggested Mr. Lerat was not fully responsible for his actions or that his ability to appreciate or understand his actions was compromised in any way by intellectual or cognitive impairment. This attack happened between family members, many of whom likely are affected by the same systemic issues that affect Mr. Lerat. This is a community where alcohol abuse is the norm and there is a history of intergenerational trauma as a result of residential schools and colonialism. However, the gravity of the offences is serious and Mr. Lerat’s moral culpability remains high. He was highly involved and his actions directly led to a night of physical violence and psychological terror for Mr. Gambler.

These offences carry significant gravity and so the primary sentencing objectives must be denunciation, deterrence and the protection and safety of the public. Aggravated assault is a serious offence, as evidenced by the fact that it carries a maximum term of fourteen years imprisonment. Unlawful confinement is also not to be taken lightly, carrying a maximum term of ten years imprisonment. But it is the combination of the two that raises the gravity (R v Peyachew, 2016 SKCA 21).

Mr. Lerat’s post-offence conduct has demonstrated that he is receptive to rehabilitation and so an appropriate sentence must find a way to give life to that principle through restorative justice. While Mr. Lerat has a number of Gladue factors that impact his degree of responsibility, as a practical reality, the more violent and serious the offence, the more likely it is that the terms of imprisonment for Indigenous and non-Indigenous offenders will be closer to each other or the same, even taking into account their different concepts of sentencing (R v Jensen, (2005) 74 OR (3d) 561 (OCA)). Given the gravity of the offences and Mr. Lerat’s responsibility for them, a penitentiary term of imprisonment is warranted in this case.

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