R v Blackplume, 2021 ABCA 2

Appeal allowed and an indeterminate sentence is imposed. The sentencing judge erred in law. It was not open to her to exempt an Indigenous transgendered offender from the operation of the dangerous offender provisions of the Criminal Code.

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In this matter, the Crown appeals the determinate sentence imposed on the respondent, a transgendered person from the Blood Tribe, born Josiah Jerome Blackplume and now known as Lucy Blackplume. Ms. Blackplume was 29 years of age at the time of sentencing and most likely suffers from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. She cannot understand the impact of her decisions, exercise self-control, or filter impulses. This cognitive deficit will be lifelong, and she requires a high level of in-the-moment support. She displays features of antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and psychopathy. Ms. Blackplume’s childhood was traumatic and dysfunctional and she virtually has no work experience.

At the dangerous offender hearing, Ms. Blackplume pleaded guilty to sexual assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm. Other convictions include attempted sexual assault with a weapon, sexual assault, fraud over $5,000, and assault causing bodily harm. As a result of her convictions, Ms Blackplume has spent almost 12 years in institutions with notable periods in segregation, isolation or observation because of anxiety, depressed mood or suicidal ideation, gestures, threats or attempts, and because she has been assaultive or sexually inappropriate with other inmates, or found trafficking her own stockpiled medications.

Ms Blackplume met the criteria for a dangerous offender and for an indeterminate sentence. The sentencing judge acknowledged that an indeterminate sentence would have been imposed, but for her finding that in Ms Blackplume’s circumstances such a sentence would constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of her s 12 Charter right (R v Boutilier, 2017 SCC 64 [“Boutilier”]). The sentencing judge also reviewed Gladue factors. In her view, correctional institutions have failed to develop humane secure housing and treatment for Indigenous and mentally ill offenders (R v CPS, 2006 SKCA 78). The sentencing judge endorsed the perspective that offenders such as Ms Blackplume are more appropriately treated from a mental health rather than correctional perspective (Ewert v Canada, 2018 SCC 30). Based on these factors, the sentencing judge concluded that an indeterminate sentence would amount to a life sentence for Ms Blackplume.

Under sections 753(4) and (4.1), a court sentencing a dangerous offender shall impose a sentence of detention in a penitentiary for an indeterminate period unless it is satisfied that there is a reasonable expectation that a lesser measure will adequately protect the public against the commission by the offender or a serious personal injury offence. Despite the finding that Ms. Blackplume is a dangerous offender, the sentencing judge imposed a determinate sentence of 10 years for sexual assault with a weapon and six years for assault causing bodily harm to be served concurrently, followed by a 10-year long term supervision order. She did so as a remedy for breach of Ms Blackplume’s right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment as guaranteed by section 12 of the Charter (R v Blackplume, 2019 ABPC 273 [“Blackplume“]).

In Boutilier, the Supreme Court of Canada held that the prospect of indeterminate detention, as provided for by section 753(4.1), does not lead to a grossly disproportionate sentence contrary to section 12 of the Charter. It is part of a broad scheme for imposing a fit sentence. The subsection applies to a narrow group of offenders who are dangerous per se. For those who cannot be controlled in the community in a manner that adequately protects the public from murder or a serious personal injury offence, a sentence of indeterminate detention is to be imposed. The effect of the sentencing judge’s decision was to grant Ms Blackplume a constitutional exemption from the operation of section 753(4.1).

The facts of this case do not present meaningfully “different circumstances” or “different reasonable applications” than those considered in Boutilier and preceding cases. Beyond Ms Blackplume’s circumstances, the sentencing judge explained that she reduced the sentence as an incentive to the Correctional Service of Canada to develop “humane housing and treatment” and “humane secure facilities” (Blackplume). This rationale does not relate to proportionality or any other sentencing objective and was therefore an irrelevant factor. The sentencing judge erred in relying on it.

An appellate court may sentence afresh where an error in principle, the failure to consider a relevant factor or the erroneous consideration of an aggravating or mitigating factor had an impact on the sentence (R v Lacasse, 2015 SCC 64). The sentencing judge erred in law in finding a Charter breach and in using that finding to reduce the sentence and in relying on an irrelevant objective. This Court therefore must sentence afresh. Ms Blackplume’s characteristics do not outweigh the statutory interest in public protection. An offender’s moral culpability, the seriousness of the offence, mitigating factors, and principles developed for Indigenous offenders are considerations relevant to deciding whether or not a lesser sentence would sufficiently protect the public. Therefore an indeterminate sentence must be imposed.

Houle v Swan River First Nation, 2020 CanLII 88240 (FC)

The Court ordered that two consolidated applications for judicial review in relation to an election dispute will be treated as an action. The Applicants seek a declaration that the First Nation’s customary election regulations are contrary to section 15 of the Charter and the Defendants plan to bring a defence based on sections 1 and 25 of the Charter, as well as section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. As the Charter argument is being raised for the first time on judicial review and section 35 rights can only be determined at trial, the matter will proceed as an action. 

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Swan River First Nation [“SRFN”] and the Swan River First Nation Chief and Council [“Respondents”], have brought a motion under the Federal Courts Rules [“Rules”] for an Order pursuant to the Federal Courts Act directing that two consolidated applications for judicial review [“Applications”] be treated and proceeded with as an action.

Shawna Jean and Robert Houle [“Applicants”] in the underlying Applications, are seeking an Order to set aside the decision of the Electoral Officer of the SRFN that refused to accept their nominations as Chief and Councillor of the SRFN respectively in the 2019 General Election. The Applicants had not been residing on the SRFN Reserve for at least one year prior to May 3, 2019 in accordance with section 9.1(a)(2) of the Swan River First Nation Customary Election Regulations [“Election Regulations”]. Additionally, they seek declarations that they are eligible to run as candidates for the position of Chief and Councillor in the 2019 General Election, and that section 9.1(a)(2) of the Election Regulations contravenes section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [“Charter”]. They contend that the impugned provision discriminates on the basis of Aboriginal residency and is therefore unconstitutional and is of no force or effect.

The Respondents intend to defend the Applications on the basis of sections 1 and 25 of the Charter and s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 in accordance with their asserted Aboriginal and Treaty rights. They argue that the procedures of an action are required to have a fair and just determination of the particular Aboriginal and Treaty rights defences being advanced and that the unique nature of these particular Applications is such that the rationales in support of the speedy judicial review process are not applicable.

The Applicants oppose the Respondents’ motion to have the Applications be treated and proceeded with as an action. They argue that the Respondents’ request to convert is premature because the Court has yet to determine whether there is a section 15 Charter violation. The Applicants also dispute the Respondents’ view of the customs, practices, traditions and history of the SRFN. According to the Applicants, the restriction of residency was not a traditional practice of the SRFN or its predecessor, the KEE NOO SHAY OOs’ Band, prior to Treaty No. 8, but rather the result of misinterpretation of Treaty No. 8 by government officials. The Applicants say that the judicial review procedure contains adequate mechanisms for the Respondents to outline their claim to Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

Section 18.4(2) of the Federal Courts Act vests the Court with the discretionary authority to order the conversion of an application for judicial review into an action “if it considers it appropriate” (Canada (AG) v Lafrenière, 2018 FCA 151). This Court has previously found that applications for judicial review that raise issues of proof of Aboriginal rights can only be determined by way of an action (Soowahlie Indian Band v Canada (Attorney General), 2001 CanLII 22168 (FC)). In this matter, the procedures of a judicial review application do not provide sufficient procedural safeguards to ensure fairness to the parties on the Applications, nor do they enable the Court to make a proper determination of the issues of Aboriginal and Treaty rights before the Court in this proceeding, thereby this Court concludes that the Applications shall be treated and proceeded with as an action.

Misdzi Yikh v Canada, 2020 FC 1059

The Court struck the pleadings filed by two Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs (Dini Ze’) in an action seeking various forms of relief against Canada in relation to federal policy objectives for the reduction of greenhouse gases. It was found to be plain and obvious that the action could not succeed due to insurmountable issues with respect to justiciability, causation, and a lack of specificity regarding alleged constitutional violations. 

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This Statement of Claim is struck without leave to amend, as it is not justiciable, discloses no reasonable cause of action and the remedies are not legally obtainable. The Plaintiff, Dini Ze’ Lho Imggin and Dini Ze’ Smogilhgim on behalf of two Wet’suwet’en House groups of the Likhts’amisyu (Fireweed) Clan: the Misdzi Yikh (Owl House) and Sa Yikh (Sun House), [“Dini Zi’”] put forth this claim related to climate change. The Dini Ze’s position is that Canada’s policy objectives for the reduction of greenhouse gas [“GHG”] emissions by 2030 are insufficient. As a result, they say Canada’s failure to enact stringent legislation is contrary to common law principles of “public trust”, “equitable waste”, and the “constitutional principle of intergenerational equity”.

The Dini Ze argued that there is a violation of their rights under sections 7 and 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [“Charter”] and that the Charter breaches are not justified under section 1. The Dini Ze’ allege that Canada has breached its duty under section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867 by not ensuring low GHG emissions under the peace, order and good government [“POGG”] powers. By doing so, Canada is generally violating their constitutional rights by not adhering to international environmental agreements that Canada ratified. Wide ranging remedies are sought including declaratory, mandatory and supervisory orders to keep mean global warming to between 1.5 ̊C and 2 ̊C above pre-industrial level by reducing Canada’s GHG emissions. These reductions relate to Canada’s commitments made in the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement is a multi-national agreement entered into by various nations in order to combat climate change and to work forward to sustain a low-carbon future. The agreement is a hybrid of both legally binding and non-binding provisions. Canada ratified the agreement on October 5, 2016 and the agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016. Canada is one of 189 countries to have ratified the agreement. The Dini Ze’ claim that Canada has repeatedly failed, and continues to fail, to fulfil its duty because they have not implemented the laws, policies, and actions needed to ensure that Canada meets its commitment made in the Paris Agreement to keep mean global warming below 2 ̊C above pre-industrial levels.

Justiciability must involve an action that has subject matter appropriate for a court to decide (Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Judicial Committee) v Wall, 2018 SCC 26). The POGG power of the federal government is a tool to facilitate federalism in Canada. It is generally thought of as having three branches: 1) the “gap” branch; 2) the “national concern” branch; and 3) the “emergency” branch (Peter Hogg, Constitutional Law of Canada, 5th ed supplemented (Toronto: Thomson Reuters Canada, 2019)). The POGG powers under section 91 empower the federal Parliament to enact laws in these situations. There is nothing in the law that suggests that it imposes a duty on the government, nor can it force Parliament to enact, change or repeal specific laws in the manner the Dini Ze’ suggests.

The “existence of an article in a treaty ratified by Canada does not automatically transform that article into a principle of fundamental justice” (Kazemi Estate v Islamic Republic of Iran, 2014 SCC 62 [Kazemi]). The only binding international law in a dualist legal system like Canada’s would be a treaty plus conventional law, or proof of applicable customary international law (Nevsun Resources Ltd v Araya, 2020 SCC 5; Kazemi ). Thereby, treaties, such as the Paris Agreement, are only given effect through Canada’s domestic lawmaking process through legislation.

There cannot be a positive duty imposed by international obligations on the peace, order and good government of Canada, as the POGG power has never been used in such a way, and the language of the statute provides that even this novel attempt must fail. When the Dini Ze’ are asking this Court to rule on the constitutionality of the failure to enact what they consider adequate laws to fulfil international obligations, they are really asking the Court to tell the legislature to enact particular laws. This is not the role of the Court and thus not justiciable. Enacting laws is within the jurisdiction of Parliament. If those laws violate the constitution, then there can be striking out, reading down, or reading in of provisions.

With no specific law pointed to, and the broad claims made by the Dini Ze’, it is difficult to find sufficient legal elements in the Charter claims for them to be justiciable. The reason being that there is no impugned law or action to make a comparison necessary to do an analysis under section 1 (R v Oakes, [1986] 1 SCR 103). Complexity itself does not mean that the Court cannot adjudicate an issue; but when the issue spans across various governments, involves issues of economics and foreign policy, trade, and a host of other issues, the courts must leave these decisions in the hands of others. As well, the remedies sought to attempt to simplify a complex situation in a way that would be ineffective at actually addressing climate change given the polycentric and international nature of the problem.

The changes being asked for are more akin to a change in policy than a change in law. In Canada, any real effect on Canada’s GHG emissions will be dependent on the cooperation of the provincial governments. This Court does not have the statutory jurisdiction to mandate any such cooperation between the different levels of government meaning that any remedies would quite possibly be ineffective. This matter is not justiciable as it is the realm of the other two branches of government. This broad topic is beyond the reach of judicial interference. The issue of climate change, while undoubtedly important, is inherently political, not legal, and is of the realm of the executive and legislative branches of government. The Court strikes the claim without leave to amend because of it being plain and obvious that there is no reasonable cause of action (Federal Courts Rules; R v Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd, 2011 SCC 42).

AM v Ministry of Social Services, 2020 SKCA 114

Appeal to vary or terminate a permanent committal order under The Child and Family Services Act dismissed. Among other issues, the variation judge appropriately weighed the importance of the children’s Indigenous heritage in assessing their best interests, it was not an error to rely on hearsay evidence in a Opikinawasowin report prepared through Saskatoon Tribal Council, and there was insufficient evidence to find any breach of section 7 of the Charter due to delay in delivery of judgment.

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This appeal concerned a proceeding under The Child and Family Services Act [“Act”], where two of the Appellants’ children were apprehended by the Ministry of Social Services [“Ministry”]. At the time, the Appellants were struggling with addictions. Violence was also a problem in the home.

In June 2013, it was determined that the children were in need of protection within the meaning of the Act and ordered that they be committed permanently to the care of the Ministry. In 2016, the Appellants applied to vary or terminate the permanent committal order. Nearly two years passed before the judge who heard the application rendered a decision dismissing it. The variation judge relied in part on the recommendation of the Elders who participated in an Opikinawasowin (a Cree word that translates to “the child rearing way” in English), and concluded that the Appellants had failed to demonstrate either that there had been a material change in circumstances, or that the best interests of the children would be served by varying or terminating the permanent committal order.

The Appellants now appeal from the Variation Decision. They also argue that, by taking nearly two years to render a decision, the variation judge caused delay that violated their rights under section 7 of the Charter.

The variation judge acknowledged that the Appellants had made significant progress in their individual battles with addiction but he remained concerned that they had not addressed the issue of violence within their home. He determined the best interests would be served by remaining in a stable home where they had lived for most of their young lives and maintaining the familial bonds that they had developed with their younger sister and foster family. This decision was made after careful reflection, notwithstanding the fact it meant they would be adopted by a non-Indigenous person.

The variation judge did not underemphasize the importance of the children’s cultural heritage in reaching this conclusion. His reasons indicate that he considered a multitude of factors, including those set out in the Act. Given the discretionary nature of a judge’s task in deciding what weight to assign to each of those factors in the ultimate balancing exercise, and the governing standard of review, this Court is not persuaded that there is any basis to interfere with his conclusion.

As well in this case, there is simply not an adequate evidentiary basis upon which to properly assess the question of whether the judicial deliberation delay violated the Appellants’ rights under section 7 of the Charter. There is no evidence that the Appellants ever expressed concern about delay prior to the variation judge issuing his decision. Nor is there any evidence as to what impact the delay had on the Appellants, the children, or on any of the issues the variation judge was required to consider in disposing of the variation application. The Appellants have not persuaded that all the facts necessary to address the section 7 issue are before the Court (Canada (Attorney General) v Bedford, 2013 SCC 72).

R v Turtle, 2020 ONCJ 429

The Court held that the unavailability of an intermittent sentence for on-reserve members of the Pikangikum First Nation, and those similarly situated, for mandatory minimum sentences under s 255 of the Criminal Code, breaches s 15 of the Charter. Alternative arguments under ss 7 and 12 of the Charter were dismissed. 

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Six band members of the Pikangikum First Nation have pled guilty to a drinking and driving offense that, in their circumstances, carries with it a mandatory minimum jail sentence of not more than ninety days. Each of the accused live, together with their young children, on the First Nation Territory of Pikangikum.

The parties to these proceedings agree it would be open to each of these accused, in the normal course, to request an order of this Court allowing them to serve their sentences intermittently. The challenge for these defendants is that the Pikangikum First Nation Territory is an isolated fly in community hundreds of kilometers from the nearest district jail in the City of Kenora and it is financially and logistically prohibitive for them to travel to and from there, from weekend to weekend, at their own expense, to serve out their sentences.

Faced with this obstacle, the defendants each brought applications alleging that their inability to mitigate the effect of a mandatory jail sentence because of the practical unavailability of an intermittent sentence violates their right to equal protection under the law, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and an abuse of the court’s process. Given the common ground of these applications, the desirability of using resources efficiently and with the consent of the parties, this Court has directed these applications be heard in one joined proceeding.

The question at the heart of this joint application is whether particular Criminal Code provisions of general application have an unconstitutional impact on Pikangikum First Nation residents, their place in Canadian confederation and what it means for them to be equal under the law. The recognition that First Nations, like Pikangikum, lived in distinctive societies, that their members are described in s 35(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 as “peoples” who have been recognized by our highest Court as holders of community based rights, by virtue of their connection to their land, strongly suggests that the defendants, as on-reserve members of the Pikangikum First Nation, belong to a group enumerated in s 15 of the Charter, namely, a nation.

Being deprived of the opportunity to serve a jail sentence intermittently because of their status as on-reserve band members of the Pikangikum First Nation, constitutes the deprivation of a legal benefit. It also creates a distinction in law between themselves and other members of the general public. Most of the offending behavior in Pikangikum, like the offences the defendants have pled guilty to, is related to alcohol or solvent abuse. Pikangikum First Nation reserve is, and always has been, an ostensibly dry community. The effects of alcohol abuse in Pikangikum are rampant and have become devastating.

Mandatory minimum sentences under s 255 of the Criminal Code, breaches s 15 of the Charter. Any s 1 justification must fail at the minimal impairment stage of the analysis given this Court is deprived of any other sentencing options for the defendants by virtue of their facing mandatory sentences. The deleterious effects of this constitutional violation are egregious and cannot be outweighed by the salutary effect of a uniform sentencing regime (R v Sharma, 2020 ONCA 478). Alternative arguments under ss 7 and 12 of the Charter are dismissed.

Pikangikum and other Treaty #5 nations had traditional means of keeping the peace in their communities that pre-date contact with Europeans by thousands of years. Pikangikum’s integration into Canadian confederation is a textbook example of the negative effects of colonialism on an isolated hunter-gatherer society. The people of Pikangikum were a healthy, self-sufficient band of families, who, in the lifetime of the current Chief’s grandmother, became the suicide capital of the world. The legal regime the Court has been asked to consider in this application, though neutral on its face, treats the people of Treaty #5 as second-class citizens. The Government is not fulfilling its treaty obligations and young Indigenous people are taking their lives in shocking numbers.

Bruno v Samson Cree Nation, 2020 ABQB 504

The Court certified a class action against the Samson Cree Nation for members from whom payment of per capita distributions, special pays, and interest were withheld during litigation and disputes over members added by virtue of Bill C-31 in 1987. The majority of common issues were approved as sought, or as modified by the Court or agreed to by counsel, and can proceed to trial. 

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For most of its history, the Indian Act based entitlement to Registered Indian status and band membership on descent through the male parent. This system of eligibility for Indian registration based on descent through the male line was in effect until Bill C-31 was passed in 1985, in response to the equality commands of the Charter. Women who lost their Registered Indian status before 1985 for “marrying out” were restored to status by Bill C-31. These women, and any children they had with their non-Indian husbands, could be registered as Indians pursuant to s 6 of the Indian Act, enacted by Bill C-31.

Before Bill C-31, the Government of Canada maintained all Band lists, and determined Band eligibility on the basis of its statutory and administrative rules about parentage and marriage. After Bill C-31, this dual role for Canada continued with respect to many Bands. However, Bill C-31 also gave Bands the option of taking control of their membership by establishing their own membership codes.

The Plaintiff, Bonnie Lee Bruno [“Bruno”], is a member of the Samson Cree Nation [“Nation”]. Her name was added to the Band List of the Nation maintained by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development [“Minister”], under the provisions of Bill C-31. Previously enfranchised Indian women and their children became members of Indian Bands on lists administered by the Minister, unless First Nations developed band membership rules approved by the Minister on or before June 28, 1987. The Court found that, on the unchallenged evidence before it, that this was not done in this matter, thus giving primacy to the list maintained by the Minister on which the Plaintiff, and allegedly others in the class, had status effective June 29, 1987. 233 individuals were added as at that date.

Prior to the passage of Bill C-31, there was considerable controversy within many First Nations over, among other things, questions over whether the women who had “married out” should be accepted back into the community and as Band members. After Bill C-31 came into effect, there were numerous challenges before the courts regarding Band membership and the equality rights issues raised by the history of enfranchisement and the attempted solution of Bill C-31.

This class proceeding relates to a claim of class members from whom, after they were added to the Band List of the Samson Cree Nation [“Nation”] by virtue of Bill C-31, the Nation withheld payment of per capita distributions and Special Pays, and interest, from 1988 to 1995 per the Plaintiff, and lesser or greater time periods as to other class members. Beginning in June 1987, the Plaintiff and other individuals’ names were entered onto the Samson Nation Band List maintained by the Minister pursuant to Bill C-31, but that the Class Plaintiffs only became members of Samson Nation about 1995 when Samson recognized and admitted them as members of the Samson Nation.

The first criterion for certification is that the plaintiff’s pleading discloses a cause(s) of action. No evidence is required, but rather the facts, as pleaded, are assumed to be true (Hunt v Carey Canada, [1990] 2 SCR 959). The pleading is to be read generously (Cloud v Canada (2004), 73 OR (3d) 401 (CA)). The standard test for unjust enrichment is: an enrichment of the defendant; a corresponding deprivation of the plaintiff; and the absence of a juristic reason for the enrichment (Garland v Consumers’ Gas Co, [2004] 1 SCR 629).

At this stage, the Plaintiff merely needs to allege an arguable cause of action, which she has done. Proof of the allegation is for trial. The Court finds that a cause of action for unjust enrichment has been established for the purpose of certification. It is determined that this is an appropriate case to proceed by way of a class proceeding, and the majority of 16 common issues and 4 subclass common issues are approved as sought, or, in some cases, with modification.

R v Penunsi, 2020 NLSC 101

Appeal dismissed. Newfoundland’s failure to enact the option of curative discharges does not result in a breach of the Constitution.

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The Appellant, an Innu woman who resides in the community of Sheshatsiu, Newfoundland and Labrador, was convicted of driving while her blood alcohol was in excess of the legal limit. The conviction was her third for such an offence. Notwithstanding that she faced mandatory imprisonment, she advised the sentencing court that she wished to seek a curative discharge. The option was not available in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Appellant challenged the constitutionality of legislation affording the Provinces the discretion whether to enact the curative discharge provision in the Criminal Code. She asserted that the failure to be able to take advantage of a curative discharge disadvantaged her as an Aboriginal offender. The sentencing judge dismissed her application and the Appellant was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 120 days imprisonment.

The Appellant has now appealed arguing that the sentencing judge erred in dismissing the application. Her application seeks to have the Court find that the legislation that affords the provinces the discretion whether to enact the curative provision, s 209(2)1 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act [“CLA”] violates her rights to equal treatment under s 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [“Charter”], in that it permits the Province to decline enacting the curative sentencing section. As an Aboriginal offender, she submits she is entitled to a restorative approach to sentencing, relying on s. 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code and the interpretation that section has received (R v Gladue, [1999] 2 CNLR 252; R v Ipeelee, [2012] 2 CNLR 218).

At the hearing of the appeal in this Court, the Appellant was afforded the opportunity to present her argument not solely as to how the sentencing judge erred in the manner in which the application was heard, but also as to why section 209(2) was unconstitutional.

The Applicant relied on the reasoning in R v Daybutch, 2015 ONCJ 302 for support that her rights under s 15 were violated. The Court, however, does not find the reasoning in R v Daybutch persuasive as it fails to consider the legitimate differences in treatment of persons under the criminal law as part of the administration of criminal law in a federal system. In contrast, a recent and thorough examination of the same issue was conducted in R v Sabbatis, 2020 ONCJ 242. Like the Applicant in this matter, and the accused in R v Daybutch, the accused in R v Sabbatis is Aboriginal. In assessing whether the accused’s rights under s 15 were violated, the court declined to follow the reasoning in R v Daybutch, but instead came to the opposite conclusion. There is no basis to find that the discretion of the Province, as permitted by s 209(2) of the CLA, namely whether to enact the curative provision under the Criminal Code, violates the Appellant’s right to not be discriminated against under s 15, on the basis of her being an Aboriginal person.

The Court determined there was no error committed by the sentencing judge reasoning in dismissing the application and holding that s 209(2) of the CLA does not discriminate against the Applicant under s 15 of theCharter. This appeal from sentence is dismissed. The stay of the Appellant’s sentence is set aside, and the Appellant is to surrender herself into custody at the police detachment nearest to her current place of residence.

Alberta (CYFEA, Director) v NL, 2020 ABPC 118

This is a decision with respect to ordering costs against the Director of child and family services in Alberta, which is relatively unusual and difficult to obtain. While it is not per se an “Aboriginal law” case, the Court considered the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in protection as a factor in favour of issuing an order for costs under s. 24(1) of the Charter

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A Permanent Guardianship Order was determined as not warranted for a child apprehended by the Director of child and family services in Alberta. The Court orders the child to be returned to the mother [“NL”] over a period of three months pursuant to a Supervision Order. This was necessary because the child had been in the custody of the Director for a period of almost 2 years, and not because of any concern about the mother’s ability to care for the child. Counsel for the mother asks the Court for costs against the Director.

As background, concerns were enough for the Director to properly apply for an apprehension order in 2017 due to numerous medical difficulties that caused concern for health and medical professionals. As well, NL at the time did not seem to be taking the appropriate measures that were suggested. Although there had been previous concerns with respect to NL’s care of her other children in the past, none of the children had been apprehended and issues with respect to drinking, partnership issues and so on, always seem to be resolved and did not appear to be an insurmountable situation. Another issue regarding NL’s care for the child was that medical appointments were located in Red Deer, approximately one hour away from her residence by car. NL does not have a car or driver’s license.

There does not appear to have been any investigation into whether NL was suffering from postpartum depression or at least the anxiety brought on by having the child’s medical problems added on to the fact that she was caring for another child, age three, who had her own medical difficulties. It appears that the medical and psychological experts assumed that what they termed as NL’s passivity or lack of affect, was a personality defect rather than a situational reaction to the stressful situation she found herself in.

The foster mother gave evidence to the child’s present circumstances. She has been the foster parent for the child since he was apprehended at approximately four months of age. The child is a typical energetic, curious, active two-year-old and does not appear to have any difficulty eating, sleeping or anything else out of the ordinary. She is regularly in contact with NL and they share information on the child’s progress and any changes that are necessary with respect to his sleeping eating or activity patterns. This evidence exposes the Director’s evidence as being out of date, yet still having been used to pursue a permanent guardianship order. There was also no evidence before the Court of the child having FASD, nor did the Director provide any evidence that this concern was pursued at all since apprehension.

Effectively nothing was done with respect to re-uniting this family during the whole time the chlid was in care. This is in direct conflict with the Director’s mandated obligations under the CYFEA. Medical information should have been updated to show the child was still in need or the child should have been returned to the mother.

The difficulty in dealing with the question of costs in child protection matters is that there are a number of cases both in Provincial Court and The Court of Queen’s Bench which take differing views with respect to the Provincial Court’s jurisdiction to award costs against the Director in a child protection matter. One may assume that costs is not an issue for child protection litigants because through Legal Aid they get “free” lawyers. This is not actually the case in Alberta as new clients are required to sign documentation acknowledging that they will repay any amounts billed by counsel, prior to counsel taking on their matter. This Court can see no reason why child protection litigants, a significantly large proportion of whom are Indigenous women and men, should be denied court costs in instances of the Director’s failure to carry out its mandate under the CYFEA.

Having found that there is conflicting case law; and having found that the CYFEA remains silent with respect to this issue and thereby creating an apparent conflict; the Court finds that the Respondent’s rights ensured by the Charter pursuant to section 7 and 15 have been infringed or denied. This in turn leads to the Court to considering an appropriate remedy. Section 24 of the Charter states “(1) Anyone whose rights or freedom’s, as guaranteed by this Charter, have been infringed or denied, may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances”. The Court finds that the appropriate remedy for the respondent in this case is an award of damages against the Director in an amount equal to the legal fees the Respondent is required to repay to Legal Aid Alberta.

R v Itturiligaq, 2020 NUCA 6

Appeal allowed. The mandatory minimum punishment of imprisonment of four years is not a grossly disproportionate sentence for this offence and this offender.  The Indigenous accused is now finished the custodial portion of his sentence and is well into his probation, therefore the sentence of imprisonment is stayed.

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A 24-year-old Inuit man and traditional hunter for country food, who had lived his entire life in Nunavut, intentionally fired his hunting rifle at the roofline of a house he knew to be occupied. The single bullet exited the roof and caused no injuries. He was charged with intentionally discharging a firearm at a place, contrary to s 244.2(1)(a) of the Criminal Code.

The accused was interviewed by the RCMP and took full responsibility for his actions. He told police that on the day of the incident he had been upset that his girlfriend had not been spending enough time with him and their small daughter. He was angry that she had gone to her friend’s place without telling him and that she refused to leave with him. He told police that he only took one shot and was not trying to aim the gun at anybody, as he knew that he is not supposed to do so.

No formal Gladue report was prepared, but it is clear that some Gladue factors were relevant to the accused’s background. He and his family described that he had a good upbringing. The accused had no known history of residential schooling in his family’s background. He was in good physical health, save a hearing deficit and the need for hearing aids, a condition also shared by his father. While history of colonialism and its intergenerational effects must be acknowledged, the Gladue factors in this case do not operate to significantly diminish the high level of moral culpability underlying this offence.

The accused, who had no criminal record, entered an early guilty plea. He successfully challenged the constitutionality of the mandatory minimum punishment, on the basis that it violated s 12 of the Charter (R v Itturiligaq, 2018 NUCJ 31). The accused was ordered a custodial sentence of slightly less than two years, with credit for pre-trial remand, followed by two years probation.

The Crown appealed the sentence imposed on the accused as demonstrably unfit, and the court’s declaration that s 244.2(3)(b) is unconstitutional. While not joined, this appeal was heard at the same time as the oral hearing in R v Ookowt, 2020 NUCA 5 [“Ookowt”], which also involved a declaration that s 244.2(3)(b) was unconstitutional pursuant to s 12 of the Charter. As stated in Ookowt, both of these appeals arose as a result of young men resorting to the use of hunting rifles in response to what they believed to be personal slights or problems in their personal lives. The appeal is allowed, and the court’s declaration of s 244.2(3)(b) is set aside.

R v Ookowt, 2020 NUCA 5

Appeal allowed. The declaration of unconstitutionality of a mandatory minimum sentence imposed by the sentencing judge is set aside, and a four-year penitentiary term is substituted. Significant time has elapsed since the Indigenous accused was sentenced – and who now has finished that sentence, therefore the sentence of imprisonment is stayed.

Indigenous Law Centre
Indigenous CaseWatch Blog

A 19 year old Inuit man, in retaliation for being bullied, fired a bullet into a house, which shattered a window and missed striking a man by inches. The accused entered a guilty plea to intentionally discharging a firearm into a place knowing that or being reckless as to whether another person was present, contrary to s 244.2(1)(a) of the Criminal Code. The mandatory minimum sentence for this offence is four years.

At the sentencing hearing, a Notice of Constitutional Challenge was filed by the Defence arguing that the mandatory minimum sentence was grossly disproportionate to a fit sentence for this offence and this offender, contrary to s 12 of the Charter. The sentencing judge determined that a fit sentence for the accused was two years less one day, plus one year of probation, and the imposition of the mandatory minimum sentence in this case would result in a sentence that is double the appropriate sentence (R v Ookowt, 2017 NUCJ 22). The Crown appeals to this Court, contending the sentencing judge failed to properly assess the gravity of this offence and that the accused’s conduct warranted the four year mandatory minimum sentence.

It is common for those who live in Nunavut’s communities to own rifles. They are used for subsistence hunting, supporting a traditional way of life. Sadly, this also means they are often readily accessible for unlawful and dangerous purposes such as intimidation, revenge, domestic violence, and retaliation.

This Court concludes that the sentencing judge committed errors in principle by imposing a disproportionate and demonstrably unfit sentence. Further, it is concluded that the four year mandatory minimum sentence under s 244.2(3)(b) is not a grossly disproportionate sentence for this offence and this offender. The Court sets aside the sentencing judge’s declaration that the imposition of the four year mandatory minimum sentence would breach the accused’s s 12 Charter rights.

In the Court’s view, the sentencing judge underemphasized the accused’s high moral blameworthiness for this offence, and overemphasized intoxication, bullying and Gladue factors. As a result, the sentencing court failed to give sufficient weight to denunciation and deterrence in reaching a sentence that was ultimately disproportionate and unfit in all of the circumstances. The sentencing judge did not provide any persuasive reasons for imposing a sentence that did not address the well-established seriousness of this firearm offence, and failure to do so was an error (R v Mala, 2018 NUCA 2). In sum, an offender who commits the offence of intentionally discharging a firearm into a place, knowing or being reckless as to whether anyone is in that place, is guilty of significant morally blameworthy conduct.

The accused’s admitted act of “extreme premeditated violence is completely disproportionate to any reasonable and measured response to the bullying he suffered”. It was sheer luck that his bullet did not hit and kill either of the two men in the house, only one being the target of his “warning”. Gladue considerations do not significantly reduce the accused’s moral blameworthiness in this matter (R v Swampy, 2017 ABCA 134).

The trial judge found the accused did not have a disadvantaged upbringing, nor does there appear to be a history of family violence, displacement, residential schooling or “constrained circumstances” (R v Ipeelee, [2012] 2 CNLR 218). Rather, the accused enjoyed a culture-centred and close family upbringing throughout his life. He is both intelligent and educated, communicating in both English (written and oral) and Inuktitut (oral). He opted to leave formal schooling to pursue his vocation as a traditional hunter, earning a living from the land by selling furs and supporting his family and community with the country food he harvested, and by keeping their machines and dog teams in good order. While a history of colonialism must be taken into account, including substance abuse and suicide in this matter, it is difficult to identify any background factors that greatly diminish the accused’s moral blameworthiness for this serious firearm offence, at least to the extent found by the sentence judge to “temper the usual deterrence sentence” by more than two years.