It’s hard not to be concerned when you catch a headline that reads, “Convicted Winnipeg rapist won’t go to jail.”
The story is just another example of the many depraved, horrific stories you can read if you follow true crime accounts in the Keystone Province.
It was a sexually sadistic domestic assault that featured a 35-year-old Sagkeeng First Nations man who burned his spouse’s tailbone with a lighter, tied her to a crib, with their baby inside no less, and then proceeded to rape her.
The case featured many twists and turns as it recently wound its way through the Justice system:
- 2004 – The attack occurs on Sagkeeng First Nation
- 2010 – The case is reported to Police
- 2012 – The case is stayed by the Crown when the victim fails to appear in court to testify at the preliminary hearing
- 2013 – The charge is re-instated by the Crown and proceeds to preliminary hearing
- 2014 – The case goes to trial and ends with guilty finding to three charges including sexual assault with a weapon and forcible confinement
The Crown asked the court to impose a six year prison sentence. The Defense asked for a suspended sentence with probation.
In a shocking ruling, Queen’s Bench Justice Colleen Suche accepted the defense position and spared the offender jail time, or any meaningful consequences for that matter.
Suche explained herself by suggesting, “There’s no evidence before me this was part of a cycle of violence or intimidation.”
Herein lies the one of the problems with a justice system that functions solely based on “evidence” before the court and divorces itself from common-sense and reality.
In reality, domestic violence assaults rarely start with torture, forcible confinements and rapes in front of infant children. No, I’m afraid that’s a special form of escalating depravity that certainly evolved over time.
Nonetheless, the ruling highlights two major defects in “justice” in Manitoba:
(1) The bar is set far too low
It seems the bar is set far to low in the Province of Manitoba when it comes to securing some semblance of “justice” for Aboriginal victims of crime. Conversely, sentencing principles under Gladue often ensures Aboriginal offenders avoid appropriate and just sentences that recognize the harm their offending has caused their victims or communities.
The 2015 RCMP Update to the National Operational Overview identified, “A strong nexus to spousal violence, which points to the need to target prevention efforts towards violence in family relationships as a critical element in reducing homicides of women.”
In plain English, domestic and family violence continue to significantly contribute to outrageous statistics regarding murdered Aboriginal females.
That reality leads to the question, “Exactly what message does a non-incarcetory sentence send to men who torture, rape and abuse Aboriginal women?”
It also raises the question, “Are Manitoba judges de-sensitized to the abhorrent violence experienced by Aboriginal people in our Province?”
(2) Inconsistent or soft justice
Thankfully, most judges take a more conciliatory approach to sentencing and give the Crown Attorney’s position reasonable and fair consideration.
That doesn’t seem to be the case for Justice Suche.
In a recent controversial case, Suche ruled that mandatory sentences for firearm offences were tantamount to “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The case centered on notorious Winnipeg gangster Mario Adamo who was charged and convicted of possession of a firearm after Police executed a search warrant on his property. That search netted a firearm, bullet proof vest, ammunition and a “knock off” list of rival gangsters.
The conviction for the firearm offence came with a three year mandatory minimum sentence as prescribed by law.
The Crown sought a five year prison term.
The sentence, six months time served and probation.
Suche ruled the offender Adamo was not a “free actor” and had “reduced moral blameworthiness” by virtue of a “mental disability” he suffered in a baseball bat attack that occurred at the Hells Angels Club House in June of 2000.
Manitoba Justice has appealed her decision.
A pattern emerges
I often search the Court of Queen’s Bench website to read rulings so I can gain a full appreciation and understanding of a judge’s decision. While I couldn’t find anything on the rape case, I did find a recent ruling Justice Suche made on an Aggravated Assault case where the offender entered a guilty plea. (R vs Laquette – May 2015)
The case involved a vicious beating where a victim was kicked, punched, stomped and ultimately stabbed with a pair of scissors. The victim suffered a broken ankle, lacerations and bruising.
The 26-year-old offender had a prior conviction for assault with a weapon (October 2012) where he slashed someone in the face with a knife. He was sentenced to three months in custody for that crime.
In this case, the Crown sought a sentence of five years in prison less pre-trial custody.
The Crown indicated the sentence was higher than the sentence sought for other participants largely because the accused’s participation, “Was more egregious for several reasons.” Those reasons included the fact the accused delivered 29 kicks, 23 punches and stomped the victim’s leg likely fracturing his ankle.
The Defence sought an unspecified, “rehabilitative sentence.”
In her decision, Suche wrote: “The only issue left to be resolved is whether, in addition to a term of probation, Mr. Laquette should be sentenced to any additional period of incarceration. I do not see that this serves any purpose given that both general and individual deterrence really have no role in this determination.”
Justice Suche proceeded to sentence the offender to an 18-month sentence which, she indicated, was satisfied by time served. Translation – Laquette received a “get out of jail free” card.
His freedom will be moderately inconvenienced by a period of three years supervised probation with a number of conditions he will undoubtedly breach.
The sentencing decision contained the trending terms:
- Diminished moral culpability
- Reduced moral blameworthiness
- Not a free actor
- Mental disability
As if to add insult to injury, Suche wrote, “Should Mr. Laquette fail to comply, the police would be immediately notified.”
Alas, the revolving doors of “justice” are guaranteed to spin in perpetuity.
And justice for all … or maybe not.