Editorial: A remarkable ruling

While there’s long been debate about how to apply the R. v. Gladue principles in sentencing aboriginal offenders, Ontario Court Justice Shaun Nakatsuru has provided probably one of the best examples of the way to do it in his sentencing decision in R. v. Armitage.

In what’s likely one of the more heartfelt recent decisions written by an Ontario judge, Nakatsuru truly demonstrated the value of a Gladue court. He was sentencing Jesse Armitage, a man with a long criminal record, for several offences including property crimes and breaches of court orders. What was truly remarkable about Nakatsuru’s reasons was the depth he went into in exploring Armitage’s circumstances, including his heritage as member of the Dokis First Nation southeast of Sudbury, Ont., his diagnosis with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the fact he left home at 15, and his struggles with substance abuse.

None of those issues are remarkable, but Nakatsuru truly did what the Gladue approach expects by getting as much information as possible about the offender. And he did so in a way that was straightforward while respecting Armitage’s right to have the judge hear and understand him. As Nakatsuru wrote: “In this case, I am writing for Jesse Armitage.”

In the end, Nakatsuru gave Armitage a conditional sentence despite the concern about the offender’s long history of breaches. “Some will also criticize that Mr. Armitage has had many chances,” he wrote.

“And that he has failed each time. I agree with such criticism. But I believe what we must do in order to be a part of the solution rather than the problem, is to not stop offering a chance to an offender when it is the right thing to do. This is the best way to be a part of the solution.”

While Armitage ended up in trouble once again “for doing very much the same thing he has always done,” the outcome was still positive. Armitage himself asked Nakatsuru to jail him for nine months so he could go to the St. Lawrence Valley Treatment Centre. “This was not something that came from me or the Crown,” wrote Nakatsuru, whose ruling noted Armitage’s previous tentative interest in getting help.

Nakatsuru concluded: “When an offender has come to this point, no matter how long, tortuous, or difficult the path taken to get there, there cannot be sadness or disappointment. There can only be hope.”

No one can predict what will happen to Armitage, but Nakatsuru has provided a beautiful example of how positive the court process can be.
— Glenn Kauth

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