Giving chronic and violent sexual offenders a sentencing break if they happen to be aboriginal, as the Supreme Court of Canada outlined on Friday, will accomplish little but to put aboriginal communities, especially women and children, at greater risk.
Manasie Ipeelee, a 39-year-old Inuk from Iqaluit, has a sad and horrible life story – an alcoholic mother who froze to death when he was five, an early exit from school, alcoholism, chronic lawbreaking and confinement. It is the story of all too many aboriginals, reflecting the damage done at least in part by the residential schools and other forms of discrimination.
But when, like Mr. Ipeelee, an aboriginal person – or anyone, for that matter – is so damaged by a sad and horrible past that he or she is out of control and a manifest danger to others, courts should err on the side of community protection. That is especially true of aboriginals and all others who have been given “long-term sentencing orders” – a form of release for chronic and violent sex offenders, under a parole officer’s supervision. The supervision orders last up to 10 years.
Mr. Ipeelee raped a woman after she drank herself unconscious, and another who was homeless and defenceless. He beat men more than once into unconsciousness. His scores of offences (including non-violent ones) are usually accompanied by drinking. One of his release conditions was that he not drink.
Supervision orders are a means to defeat the lock-’em-up-forever crowd and show that offenders can live, under watch, in freedom; in these circumstances, the onus on offenders to abide by the terms of their release should be high. For violating his order by weaving drunkenly down a street on a bicycle, with two bottles of liquor on him, he received a three-year term; the Supreme Court replaced it with one year. The express emphasis on rehabilitation over public protection hands all chronic sex offenders who are aboriginal an argument for leniency they do not deserve.
Federal law requires that courts do their utmost to keep aboriginals out of jail, yet the over-representation of aboriginals in federal and provincial jails grows worse (native admissions to jail rose four per cent from 2001 to 2006, while overall admissions declined nine per cent). The Supreme Court says that other courts have failed to apply or understand its liberal ruling in the 1999 case of R v. Gladue. But the courts are faced with far too many sad, horrible and dangerous stories to end the over-representation on their own.