Timiskaming Speaker (New Liskeard, Ontario)
July 23, 1997
Human life has become distressingly cheap in Canada at least if measured by some of the sentences recently handed out through our court system.
The most prominent example, of course, is the slap on the wrist given to an Ontario Provincial Police officer convicted of shooting an unarmed Indian protester. Sgt. Kenneth Deane was handed a sentence of two years less a day, but will not spend one hour behind bars for criminal negligence causing the death of Dudley George during a 1995 clash between police and Natives near Ipperwash.
The officer gets to serve his time "in the community" and will continue to draw a full salary from the OPP while doing so. Sgt. Deane's only other obligation is to perform 180 hours of unspecified community service, and although he is barred from possessing a weapon until his sentence is completed, the police association is fighting to keep him on the force.
The arrangement is in sharp contrast to another case where a police officer was on the receiving end of an armed assault. Toronto detective Larry Dee was upset that former soldier Eric Schumacher got only 10 years in prison for attempting to murder him and his partner back in 1991, but in comparison to some other decisions of the justice system the punishment seems almost harsh.
A teenager m Alberta, for instance, was handed a "life" sentence for the brutal killing of a 9-year-old boy, but will be eligible to apply for parole in February, 2001. Since the specified date is only six years after the senseless crime took place and four years after the sentencing, it must be concluded that judges define life in a much different fashion than dictionaries.
Then there is the sad story of Kasandra Shepherd, a little girl in Toronto who finally died from a brain hemorrhage after Ontario's child welfare system failed to protect her from an abusive stepmother. The woman convicted of manslaughter in the case received the judicially popular two years less a day but actually spent only six months in jail.
The tendency of courts to soften the sentences of criminals is apparent even among serial killers such as Paul Bernardo and Clifford Olson. Although numerous victims may be targeted by the murderer, only one life term is ever handed down-and in Canada that usually means 25 years or less.
The custom of lumping sentences together to run concurrently has even been extended to the Bosnian war crimes trials now under way in the Netherlands. A Serb found guilty of beating and killing his Muslim and Croatian neighbors was sentenced to a total of 97 years on 11 convictions, but only the longest term, 20 years, will count as the rest of the time will be served concurrently.
If you think the courts are always lenient, though, consider the case of Jessica Hart, a Toronto woman who provided false evidence in an attempt to keep her abusive boyfriend from going to jail. Charged with obstruction of justice, she was jailed for two months and will be on probation for a year following her release. The man she tried to keep out of the slammer received a sentence of only 30 days after pleading guilty to attempted assault and kidnapping .
Based on these limited statistics, Interfering with court procedures merits double the punishment handed out for an attempt to kidnap and assault another human being. As for killing an unarmed Indian protester, I guess life really is cheap in terms of jail time.