A prominent B.C. native leader says disgraced ex-RCMP officer Monty Robinson should have gone to jail, and he's concerned that public outrage over the seemingly lenient sentence may lead to a backlash against the principle of aboriginals receiving less time in custody than other offenders.
In handing Mr. Robinson a year's conditional sentence, including a month of house arrest, for obstruction of justice, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Janice Dillon said the former Mountie's aboriginal status was a factor in her decision not to send him to prison. Under the so-called Gladue principle, courts are required to provide distinct treatment for aboriginals.
But Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president Stewart Phillip, an outspoken advocate of native rights and aboriginal land claims, said Sunday he believes it was inappropriate for the judge to take Mr. Robinson's background into account.
Grand Chief Phillip said he supports the Gladue principle. However, it should be applied only in circumstances where an aboriginal offender has suffered significant trauma growing up, he contended. It should not be automatic.
As an officer of the RCMP, Mr. Robinson had a higher duty to uphold the law and safeguard public safety, Grand Chief Phillip said.
"When he joined the RCMP, he took an oath, and I believe he pretty much thumbed his nose at the very system he swore to uphold. It really upsets me that Mr. Robinson was given due consideration for his aboriginal background."
Mr. Robinson was convicted of obstruction of justice for leaving the scene of a fatal accident in 2008 to drive home and down two vodkas before returning. The court found he had been hoping to mask the five beers he had consumed earlier. A 21-year old motorcyclist was killed after being struck by Mr. Robinson's vehicle at an intersection.
Crime analyst Neil Boyd and B.C. Conservative Party Leader John Cummins echoed Grand Chief Phillip's criticism, as controversy over Mr. Robinson's avoidance of jail time continued to escalate.
"Aboriginal status should not be a get-out-of-jail-free card," Mr. Cummins said. "The policy [of lesser sentences] should be used carefully, and with discretion. I think the judge in this case was wrong, I really do."
Mr. Boyd, a professor with the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, agreed that Mr. Robinson should have received time in prison.
Obstruction of justice by a police officer is a very serious charge, he said, adding that someone died in the incident.
"This is not a case where the fact he's an aboriginal offender should trump the importance of sending a message about police officers engaging in obstruction of justice," Mr. Boyd said. "Criminal law has an important denunciatory function, and sometimes, that means a jail sentence is appropriate. The Gladue principle doesn't say you should be spared custody in all circumstances."
The Supreme Court of Canada endorsed the landmark case involving native offender Jamie Gladue last March, mandating judges to consider alternative sentences for aboriginal offenders because of their cultural oppression growing up.
Grand Chief Phillip said he is worried the Robinson sentencing may jeopardize support for the Gladue principle.
"I support its application when warranted, but this type of careless application could very well contribute to an unfortunate backlash against the original intent," he said. "I am very concerned about that."
Given his position, the UBCIC president said he could well have remained silent on the issue. "But I think there are times when you have to rise to the occasion and speak out. Otherwise, this kind of thing is going to continue."
In an e-mailed statement, B.C. Justice Minister and Attorney General Shirley Bond said the Crown is carefully reviewing the judge's decision. The Crown asked for a jail sentence of three to nine months for Mr. Robinson, or a conditional sentence of 12 to 18 months.
Mr. Robinson, who had been suspended with pay while facing internal RCMP discipline, resigned from the Mounties last week, just before his sentence hearing began.
The former officer was also the lead Mountie in the 2007 fatal tasering of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport. He is facing a charge of perjury over his testimony at an inquiry into Mr. Dziekanski's death.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Janice Dillon as a Provincial Court judge. She is a B.C. Supreme Court Justice. This version has been corrected.