Handing young aboriginal men and women a stay-out-of-jail card in cases of serious violence is a mistaken answer to the problem of overincarceration of aboriginal people in Canada. It puts one wrong in place of another.
Del Louie, 22, viciously assaulted a 55-year-old Vancouver bus driver named Charles Dixon. After three operations, Mr. Dixon's face is held together by a plate with four screws. Mr. Louie had been convicted before for assaulting a bus driver.
There is no doubt that the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in provincial and federal jails is a calamity for the country, for aboriginals and for the individuals behind bars. The unprovoked physical assaults on bus drivers and others who work in service jobs hardly compare – unless you happen to be the one driving the bus (150 assaults on Vancouver bus drivers were reported last year). And shouldn't society protect those who do such jobs?
Mr. Louie's assault was exceptionally serious. His sucker punch on a vulnerable man in a chair broke two bones in Mr. Dixon's face and left him with cognitive problems.
As a general rule, Canadian judges don't like to compound one tragedy with another. Provincial Court Judge Karen Walker sentenced Mr. Louie to 18 months at an alcohol rehab residence, citing his aboriginal background and other mitigating factors – through no fault of his own, he has fetal alcohol syndrome. The tragedy of another aboriginal man going to jail was thus avoided, or at least deferred.
The problem is the thorny one of justice. The law says sentencing is supposed to contribute to the maintenance of a peaceful, law-abiding society. In the Louie case, having an aboriginal mother protected him from being held fully accountable for committing a violent crime. That lower standard of accountability doesn't protect Mr. Dixon or other bus drivers, doesn't denounce an unprovoked attack with the vehemence it deserves. And it's hard to see how it helps Mr. Louie or other aboriginals to be deemed less accountable, even for crimes of serious violence, because of their ancestry.