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Man who punched bus driver spared jail time due to his native ancestry

Del Louie, who assaulted Coast Mountain Bus Company bus driver, Charles Dixon, arrives at the Provincial Criminal Court for his sentencing hearing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, November 29, 2011.

Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/rafal gerszak The Globe and Mail

It was bad enough for veteran bus driver Charles Dixon to have his face and well-being shattered by a vicious sucker punch from an angry passenger.

But Tuesday, Mr. Dixon sat in court with a number of his driver colleagues to hear that Del Louie, the young man who assaulted him, would not be going to jail.

Instead, citing Mr. Louie's aboriginal ancestry as one of several mitigating factors, Provincial Court Judge Karen Walker handed the 22-year-old an 18-month conditional sentence to be served at a rehab residence, 200 hours of community service and two years probation. The Crown had urged a prison sentence of nine to 12 months.

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Outside the court, the 55-year-old driver was bitter that his attacker was spared time behind bars. He pointed to his face, partially covered in bandages from his latest surgery to restore normal breathing.

"There's nothing wrong with Del Louie's face. He doesn't have a plate with four screws in his face," said Mr. Dixon, his voice cracking. "He doesn't have a concussion. He doesn't have neck injuries and back injuries, and cognitive issues that will be with me the rest of my life.… Where's the respect?"

The conditional sentence was yet another blow for public transit drivers, who suffer scores of assaults every year. Few of the culprits wind up in prison.

"This is totally unacceptable," said Don MacLeod, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 111 that represents Lower Mainland bus drivers. "House arrest is totally different from jail time. There's no deterrence in that. Today, there was no justice for Charles Dixon, no justice for more than 1,000 transit operators who have been assaulted over the last 10 years, and no justice for passengers, who expect the buses they board to be safe. This is a very sad message for the court to send."

In addition to his attack against Mr. Dixon on a late-night bus in Burnaby last year, Mr. Louie assaulted the driver's son, Aaron, who tried to restrain him; regularly broke his bail conditions by drinking excessively; and spat at a paramedic during an altercation with police. He also had a previous conviction for assaulting a bus driver.

Court was told that Mr. Louie experienced a difficult upbringing, raised by an alcoholic mother, and suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome. That cut little ice with Mr. Dixon.

"That young man knew exactly what he was doing that night. I'm sorry he has fetal alcohol syndrome, but look what he's done to me. It will stay with me for the rest of my life," Mr. Dixon said. "Sorry, I don't agree with using aboriginal ancestry as an excuse. It doesn't wash."

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He pointed out that in a few weeks he will have served 14 months of his own virtual house arrest, unable to return to work. "That's just four months shy of what Del Louie is getting," the driver said with agitation.

Mr. Louie punched Mr. Dixon after being told not to board the bus by the back door. His single blow broke two bones on the right side of the driver's face and caused other injuries, including cognitive and psychological difficulties.

In pronouncing sentence, Judge Walker acknowledged the severity of Mr. Louie's sucker punch against a vulnerable victim, who was simply doing his job. But she said the Criminal Code requires that "all available sanctions" be considered before sending an aboriginal offender to jail. The section was recently upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Circumstances of aboriginals in Canada, given their traumatic history, are different from non-aboriginal offenders, Judge Walker said, citing previous court rulings. While Mr. Louie, with an aboriginal mother and father of Russian ancestry, does not live in a native community, he has been afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome and psychological stress all his life, the judge told the court. "They were not of his making."

Other mitigating factors included Mr. Louie's relative youth, his sparing Mr. Dixon the ordeal of a trial by pleading guilty, his expression of remorse, and a renewed attempt at rehab, Judge Walker said.

As Mr. Louie stood before her, however, hands clasped in front of him, she warned him that any breach of her strict conditions, including a ban on drugs and alcohol, would likely send him to prison.

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"You have much at stake," the judge told Mr. Louie, "and the eyes of the community are on you."

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