A Courageous Decision by a Canadian Judge

Sentencing is the most difficult aspect of being a judge. The decision by a Canadian trial court judge may be appealed. Time will tell. But regardless it was courageous.

From the Globe & Mail “A Northern Ontario judge has balked at giving six Indigenous offenders the mandatory jail sentence for driving drunk, saying jails have become the modern version of residential schools for Indigenous peoples, causing lasting damage to communities.The case before Ontario Court Justice David Gibson involved six women from the Pikangikum First Nation, all of them mothers, five with families of up to nine children. Each woman pleaded guilty to impaired-driving offences, and in a joint hearing, brought a constitutional challenge to minimum sentences because, in practical terms, they couldn’t serve them on weekends, as other people do.Under federal law, repeated impaired-driving offenders face a mandatory minimum jail term of as much as 90 days (the penalty for a third or subsequent offence). The nearest correctional facility to Pikangikum is in Kenora, more than 200 kilometres away, and roads are not accessible most of the year, making it difficult to return home after the weekend.“In a community where 75 per cent of the population is under the age of 25, removing mothers from their children for extended periods of time will [undoubtedly] exacerbate existing problems in this vulnerable and destabilized First Nation,” Justice Gibson wrote in the 36-page ruling.What’s more, he said, overcrowding at the 94-year-old Kenora District Jail means inmates at times sleep on floors next to a toilet. And the court heard from a recent superintendent of the jail that some prisoners are forced into “fight clubs.” The jail has long-term destructive effects, the judge concluded.“When one considers the impact such brutalizing experiences must have on inmates and what they must carry home with them to their First Nations, it is very hard not to notice the grotesque similarities between these kinds of ‘correctional institutions’ and residential schools that have caused such lasting damage to Indigenous communities.”Usually, short mandatory sentences can be served on weekends, allowing offenders to continue working and taking care of their children.But because Pikangikum, in Northwestern Ontario, has no jail, weekend sentences are unheard of, the judge said.” For the full story: https://www.theglobeandmail.com

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