Although the sentencing judge still views a new joint submission of 180 days jail plus probation and mandatory ancillary orders as unduly lenient for an Indigenous man’s public and violent attack on his spouse at an elementary school in front of their child, it does not meet the threshold to reject the joint submission.
L.R. is before the Court for sentencing a second time after having pleaded guilty in 2020, to three offences charged as a result of a violent altercation with his former spouse and the investigating RCMP officers. Joint submission by counsel was rejected for being unduly lenient (R v LR, 2020 BCPC 80 (CanLII)). Counsel has returned to Court with a new joint submission for a global sentence of 180 days jail plus probation and mandatory ancillary orders.
L.R. and C.L. met in highschool and cohabitated for ten years from 2008 to 2018 and are the biological parents of two children, one aged eight years old, the other three years old. L.R. came to an elementary school with his son to attend a birthday party where he encountered C.L. in the school parking lot. L.R. says C.L. showed him nude or “near nude” photographs of herself she had sent a number of friends and relatives. He became angry and began arguing with her. C.L. then picked up her son and ran to the school office and asked the receptionist to call the police. Enraged, L.R. chased after C.L. When he caught up with her in the school office, he grabbed her hair and began punching her in the head, even though at the time she was holding their child. He then threw C.L. on the floor and began kicking her in the ribs. Throughout this assault, L.R. was yelling at and threatening to kill C.L.
Eventually the staff succeeded in separating L.R. from C.L. L.R. took their son and left the school. The staff complained to the RCMP, who came to the school where they found C.L. L.R. left the school with his son and drove to his parents’ residence and asked his parents to keep his son safe. L.R. picked up a collapsible baton and a hunting knife at his residence and then drove to the house of his friend. In an attempt to locate him, the police called L.R.’s cell phone where he answered and uttered threats. The constables attended the friend’s residence where they believed L.R. might be hiding. L.R. was caught inside a smoke shack with the weapons. He continued to utter threats, then eventually held his weapons up and took a half step forward and was pepper sprayed.
While in custody, L.R. wrote apology letters to C.L., his son, and his parents. L.R. says he did not deny making threats to the officers or swinging the baton, but did not recall his interaction with the police, other than being pepper sprayed. L.R.’s present circumstances and antecedents are well documented in the presentence reports. L.R. is a member of a First Nation and was 27 years old at the time of the offence and 28 at sentencing. Until his banishment as a result of the offences, L.R. lived most of his life in the First Nation, as did most of his extended family. L.R. did work sporadically for the First Nation’s village government as a labourer, however, he was unable to sustain steady employment. Nevertheless, L.R. actively harvested fish and game to provide for his family, community and Elders.
C.L. and L.R.’s relationship was discordant. A social worker of the respective Child & Family Services Society, blames their problems on L.R.’s abusive behaviour. She depicts C.L. as the victim of the worst case of battered wife syndrome she has ever worked with. L.R. and C.L. separated permanently as a result of the school incident. After L.R. and C.L. separated, the children now live with C.L. At the hearing, the Court was not aware L.R. had issues of substance misuse. The presentence reports prepared for this continuation of the sentencing hearing tell a very different story. L.R. admitted to “selling and using cocaine” daily up to the time of his arrest.
While on remand at the Kamloops Regional Correction Centre, L.R. completed the 12-session Substance Abuse Management program and the 10-session Respectful Relationships programs. Since his release, L.R. sought and participated in individualized addictions and anger management counselling with an addiction specialist with the Terrace and District Counselling Services Society. L.R. does not speak or understand his Indigenous language nor does he participate in the spiritual or cultural activities to any significant degree. The Presentence Report and Gladue Report reference a number of support letters from Elders acknowledging L.R. as a skilled and generous hunter and fisher who provided sustenance fish and game to the community.
Although his grandparents attended residential school, L.R.’s upbringing was free of any trauma, physical or emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, substance misuse, domestic discord or violence. L.R. grew up hunting and fishing with his father and extended family. L.R. remains close to his parents and siblings who have supported him throughout these legal proceedings. As a result of L.R.’s charges, his First Nation’s village government banished L.R. The village sent a letter to the RCMP and Terrace Crown Counsel advising that out of concern for the well-being of their citizens, the village government banished L.R. indefinitely from attending until he seeks medical or therapeutic attention for his actions and proves he is fit to return to their community.
While they are not immutable or sacrosanct, joint submissions should only be rejected in exceptional circumstances (R v Anthony-Cook, 2016 SCC 43 [“Anthony-Cook”]; R v Spencer-Wilson, 2020 BCPC 140 (CanLII)). There are exceptional circumstances in this case to justify a lesser period of incarceration than might otherwise be imposed. Still, L.R.’s assault on C.L. at the elementary school was outrageous. The sentence that counsel now propose is still not one, absent a joint submission that the Court would otherwise impose. Although the Court believes the joint submission for 180 days jail sentence is unfit, perhaps even demonstrably unfit, it is unable to conclude its acceptance would cause a reasonable person to conclude “the proper functioning of the justice system had broken down” (Anthony-Cook). L.R. has 204 days of pre-detention credit, and has served the 180 day jail sentence. He is subject to an 18 month Probation Order with terms and conditions.