A recent Court of Queens Bench ruling plays directly into the strategy employed by the elder statesmen who run Winnipeg street gangs.
That strategy – use child soldiers to do the gangs heavy lifting.
That heavy lifting involves guarding crack shacks, doing drive by shootings, participating in assaults, protecting gang turf and, of course, killing people when the need arises.
In order to understand where we are, we have to take a look back in time.
On April 1, 2003, the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) came into effect replacing the Young Offenders Act.
The YCJA was a document rich with principles, intent and objectives all designed to help young people correct their offending behaviour.
In reality, the YCJA turned out to be a toothless piece of legislation easily exploited by adult gang members who recognized the benefits of a criminal justice system that went to extraordinary lengths to keep young offenders out of jail.
The evolution of youth criminal justice created the perfect conditions for the birth of the Canadian version of the child soldier.
Enter Nigel Dixon
Nigel Dixon has been described as a happy, sweet, easygoing twenty (20) year old man who was deeply connected to his family. He was a treasured son, brother, cousin and friend.
What he wasn’t, was a gang member.
That didn’t matter to a seventeen (17) gang banger who decided to play God with his life.
On April 2, 2013, at 4 p.m., Dixon and his stepsister Samantha Meekis, and two friends, were walking down a back lane in the 500 block of Langside Street in the City of Winnipeg.
As they walked down the lane they came upon the seventeen (17) year old thug who was in the company of several members of the Mad Cowz street gang. The gangsters weren’t just out for a casual afternoon walk. They were working.
Their job that day was to do a “G-check.”
In the gang vernacular, “G-check” means to find out who Dixon and company were “reppin.”
It’s an important function of the street gang, the need to protect their turf from the threat of encroaching rival gangsters.
The query usually comes in the form of, “Who you down with?”
(The answer, as I’ve learned in other murder cases, is usually irrelevant.)
Meekis told the gangsters they were from “The Rez” and weren’t repping any gang.
At this point, “direction” was given to allow Dixon and company to go peacefully on their way, but that’s not what happened.
The seventeen (17) year old gangster, armed with a loaded 9 mm handgun tucked in his waistband, followed the group. As the group passed through a narrow space between two houses they had to walk in single file. Dixon was last in line with Meekis directly in front of him.
The armed gangster was approximately eight (8) feet behind them when, for no discernible reason, he opened fire shooting Dixon four to five times in the back.
Two of the bullets passed through his back and struck Meekis.
Nigel Dixon later died in hospital.
Meekis was rushed to the ER and would spend the next several weeks recovering from her injuries.
It’s important to note the seventeen (17) year old shooter was a few months short of his eighteenth (18th) birthday at the time of the killing.
He is now 20 years old.
The YCJA provides him protection from having his identity revealed.
After the brazen killing the shooter fled from the City.
On May 8, 2013, Police obtained a Canada Wide Warrant for his arrest for 2nd degree murder.
At the time, police obtained a court order authorizing the publication of the suspect’s photograph and identity to aid the investigation.
(The order had an expiry date and further publication of his name and photograph are prohibited by law.)
On January 17, 2014, police held a press conference indicating the suspect was still at large and obtained a second court order authorizing the release of his identity and photograph. Police asked media outlets to share the information across the Country.
On March 13, 2014, the shooter was arrested by members of the Vancouver Police Department.
In all, the shooter enjoyed 345 days of freedom after he executed Nigel Dixon.
He spent 2 years, 5 months and 20 days in custody prior to his sentencing.
The murder of Nigel Dixon sent shock waves throughout the community.
This was a brutal, broad daylight, execution style killing that occurred only blocks from the University of Winnipeg and the heart of Downtown.
The innocence of the victim coupled with the senseless nature of the crime reminded us why our City consistently leads the Nation in violent crime.
It reminded us we have a significant street gang problem, a fact many residents, politicians and good will ambassadors prefer to ignore.
An Adult Sentence
The YCJA contains provisions that let the Crown seek an adult sentence for young offenders convicted of certain serious offences. Second degree murder is one of them.
In determining a youth sentence a youth court justice must take into account;
- the degree of participation by the young person in the offence
- the harm done to victims, whether it was intentional or reasonably foreseeable
- any reparation made to the victim or community
- time spent in pre-trial custody
- previous criminal record
- other aggravating or mitigating circumstances
(From the view down here, gang participation should be a serious aggravating circumstance.)
If sentenced as an adult for 2nd degree murder, the shooter would receive a life sentence with no possibility of parole for seven (7) years.
If sentenced as a youth, the maximum sentence consists of a combination of a 4 year period of incarceration followed by a conditional supervision order for 3 additional years.
The significant difference between the two outcomes relates to the life sentence.
If sentenced as an adult, the convicted killer will be subject to life long supervision and control.
If sentenced as a youth, the convicted killer will be released from jail in September of 2020 and will be completely free and clear of any form of supervision by September of 2023.
At that time he will be twenty-seven (27) years old.
Nigel Dixon will still be dead.
His family will still be mourning his loss.
The Sentencing Decision
In arriving at her decision, sentencing Justice Colleen Suche conducting a pro vs con analysis.
Her reasons in favour of an adult sentence included;
- The seriousness of the offence – murder she correctly notes is, “The most serious offence in our society.”
- The fact the offender was almost 18 years of age at the time of the offence and was functioning at a level of independence and maturity beyond his years
- The aggravating circumstances – the offender was acting in concert with a criminal street gang defending turf, he had a loaded firearm and made the intentional choice to shoot Dixon for no apparent reason. He shot him in the back, not once but 4 – 5 times. He also injured Samantha Meekis. The shooting occurred in the middle of the afternoon in a residential area.
- The offender has lingering issues regarding anger management and problems with authority
Her reasons against an adult sentence included;
- The offender plead guilty to the offence and spared witnesses and family the “difficulty” of a trial
- The offender has no criminal record and his actions appeared to be “out of character”
- The offender has no underlying cognitive, behavioural, emotional or psychological issues
- The offender availed himself of opportunities for programming while in custody
- The offender is a “serious and hardworking student and academically accomplished a great deal” he was an active and positive participant in programs
- The offender set positive and seemingly realistic goals for his long-term future
- The offender was assessed at “medium risk” to reoffend, he has taken several programs aimed at reducing his risk factors
- The offender shows insight into his issues, including his need to address his anger
- Overall, his behaviour has improved dramatically and the incidents of aggression and acting out have minimized
- In his conversations with Dr Fisher (Clinical Psychologist) and Ms Williams (Probation Services) he openly accepted responsibility for his behaviour
If you look at the list of pros vs cons, even without analysis, you can easily predict the sentencing outcome. The pro list has 4 specific bulleted items vs 10 specific bulleted items noted in the con list.
The question we need to ask is, “Does the argument against an adult sentence have merit and does the argument stand up to rigorous, common-sense analysis?”
I invite you to be the judge.
Item #1 – The Guilty Plea
How much credit do we give an offender for pleading guilty to a criminal charge and “sparing” the family the rigours of a criminal trial.
Did the young killer plead guilty out of some sense of responsibility or magnanimous concern for the victim’s family or is there more to it than that?
Was the case against him strong?
Was he likely to be convicted?
Whose interests were truly served by the guilty plea?
Did anyone ask the family how much credit the young killer should receive for “sparing” them the rigours of a criminal trial?
Item #2 – No Prior Record / Out of Character
In my mind, the fact the offender had no record should have been negated by the fact he was dealing drugs and gang banging by age 15, a fact acknowledged by Justice Suche in her decision.
Does he deserve credit for not getting caught?
The suggestion Dixon’s killing was “out of character” is extremely naive and out of touch with reality.
In reality, killing innocents is completely “in character” for drug dealing gang bangers. You don’t have to take my word for it, just read a newspaper.
Item #3 – No Underlying Issues
The fact the convicted killer had no underlying cognitive, behavioural, emotional or psychological issues should properly be used in an argument in favour of an adult sentence.
Translated – he had absolutely no excuse for killing Nigel Dixon.
He didn’t have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia or other mental health issues, childhood abuse or neglect, addiction issues or any other excuse.
The cold-blooded killing of Nigel Dixon was nothing less than an intentional act.
Conversely, if he had such issues they would surely have been used as an excuse in favour of a young offender sentence.
Item #4 – #6 – Programs
Jail time is boring.
Ask any inmate and they will tell you as much.
How much credit should a convicted killer receive for taking a few programs while he sits rotting in jail?
Is Justice Suche alert to the fact many offenders simply take programs to “play the game” because they know these efforts can help reduce their sentence.
Should we be impressed the young killer set positive goals for his future?
Shouldn’t we place more emphasis on the fact Nigel Dixon’s future was stolen from him?
How much emphasis should we place on a killer’s behaviour and accomplishments within the walls of a correctional facility, the most structured, supervised environment in our society?
It’s the killer’s behaviour beyond the walls that should concern the sentencing judge, isn’t it?
That brings me to the next point.
Item #7 – The Risk to Re-offend
The youthful killer was assessed at a medium risk to re-offend.
Not a minimum risk, a medium risk.
Justice Suche suggests we should take comfort in the knowledge he’s taken programs aimed at reducing his risk factors.
Item #8 – Offender Has Insight in Need to Address Anger
It seems we can’t place much emphasis on the suggestion the young killer has a degree of self-awareness when Justice Suche indicates concerns remain regarding his ability to control his anger.
Not to mention his problems (plural) with authority.
None of this is tremendously inspiring.
Item #9 – Minimized Incidents of Aggression & Acting Out
Emphasis must be placed on the word “minimized.”
Item #10 – Offender Accepts Responsibility for Behaviour
In conversations with a Psychologist and Probation Officer our young killer “openly accepted responsibility for his behaviour.”
Apparently, the young killer’s words are meaningful to Justice Suche.
I suggest his actions should speak louder.
Justice Suche writes;
“As I referenced earlier, despite telling Ms. Williams that he wished to offer an apology to the family, when given the opportunity to do so in court he did not, nor did he really have anything to say.”
The truth is revealed when reality and theory collide.
“He really didn’t have anything to say.”
He really didn’t.
Not to worry, Justice Suche was quick to offer an excuse for the young killer suggesting a sentencing hearing is a stressful time for an offender and the “environment is not easy.”
As anticlimactic as it might be, Justice Suche sentenced the young killer to a youth sentence.
She did not give him credit for time served, a recommendation given by the defence team represented by Mr. Martin Glazer and Mr. Joshua Rogala.
As previously noted, the convicted killer will be released from custody in September of 2020 at which time he will be 24 years of age.
He will be the subjected to the conditions of a supervision order until September of 2023.
He will be free of any “state” control by the time he’s 27 years of age.
I suppose we should find comfort in the knowledge the court also imposed a weapons prohibition order for six (6) years.
After reviewing the facts of this case we are left with the burning question;
“If not this offender, then who?”
If a drug dealing, gang associated, young offender, nearing his 18th birthday, who brutally executes an innocent man, in broad daylight, in cold blood, by cowardly shooting him multiple times in the back, in the misguided attempt to defend gang turf, doesn’t deserve an adult sentence than who possibly could?
Make no mistake, this could have happened to anyone of us.
Worse, the decision essentially reinforces the criminal street gang strategy to deploy “child soldiers” to do their dirty work.
I’m afraid soft justice won’t do much to change that reality.
This is not the first controversial sentence imposed by Justice Suche.
Suche previously declared mandatory minimum sentences for firearm offences “cruel and unusual punishment.”
In May 2011, Suche ignored a mandatory minimum 3 year term and sentenced Winnipeg gangster Mario Adamo to six months time served.
Adamo was convicted of a number of firearm related offences that were connected to a Police investigation that netted the seizure of a handgun, ammunition, a bullet proof vest and a “hit list” of rival gangsters.
The Crown was seeking a 5 year jail term.
In a more recent case, Suche spared a convicted rapist jail time in a domestic violence incident involving a 35-year-old Sagkeeng First Nations man who burned his spouse’s tailbone with a lighter, tied her to a crib, with the baby inside, and then raped her.
The Crown was seeking a 6 year jail term.
In her decision, Suche indicated;
“There’s no evidence before me this was part of the cycle of violence or intimidation.”
In yet another case, Suche sentenced a man to time served after he was convicted of Aggravated Assault.
The case involved a vicious beating where a victim was kicked, punched, stomped and ultimately stabbed with a pair of scissors. The victim suffered a broken ankle, lacerations and bruising.
The twenty-six (26) year old offender had a prior conviction for assault with a weapon (October 2012) where he slashed someone in the face with a knife.
The Crown sought a 5 year jail term.
R v Laquette – May 2015
Justice Colleen Suche was appointed a Judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench on July 16, 2002.
*Throughout her career, her practise was primarily in arbitration, mediation and human rights law.
Queen’s Bench Judges earn upwards of $288,000 per annum.