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JUSTICE IN MANITOBA – Slip Sliddin Away…

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Manitoba Justice just took another gigantic leap backwards thanks to a decision this week by Manitoba Court of Queens Bench Justice Colleen Suche.

It seems that Justice Suche has mistaken her role on the Bench with that of Legislator, Psychiatrist and Defender of rights for convicted criminals.

In a stunning ruling that disregards a Legislated mandatory minimum sentence for possession of a firearm, Suche effectively provided Manitoba criminals with mental health issues “get out of jail free cards” by declaring they are not “free actors.” As such, Suche indicates these offenders should benefit from reduced “moral blameworthiness” for the crime (s) they commit.

On May 5, 2011, Suche convicted Mario Phillip Adamo (39) of a series of firearm related offences that were laid as a result of a Police investigation that netted the seizure of a handgun, ammunition, a “list” of names of gang members and a bullet proof vest.  The conviction for the firearm offence comes with a three (3) year mandatory minimum sentence as prescribed by law.

According to Suche, the mandatory minimum sentence is not so mandatory, “I conclude that the mandatory minimum sentence has a greater impact on mentally disabled persons because it does not take into account their reduced moral blameworthiness,” she wrote in her 59-page decision. “Persons, such as Mr. Adamo, whose mental illness has contributed to their committing an offence, are not free actors,” she stated.

Mario Adamo is not a “free actor,” a generous conclusion given Mr Adamo’s history.

Prior to suffering the traumatic brain injury in June of 2000, Adamo had already committed himself to living the criminal gangster lifestyle.  He had a number of criminal convictions for various crimes which included uttering threats and possession of narcotics for the purpose of trafficking.  It was that lifestyle choice that resulted in Adamo finding himself on receiving end of a Louisville slugger while hanging out at the Hells Angels clubhouse, a nefarious location accessible only to the most dedicated and greasy criminals the City of Winnipeg has to offer.

It was a case I knew well having worked it during my inaugural year in the Homicide Unit.

I don’t deny Adamo suffered a serious brain injury as a result of the attack.  He was hospitalized for an extensive period of time and suffered extensive damage to his left temporal lobe which resulted in significant impairment in function, memory, impulse control and judgement.  Police Officers who knew Adamo before the attack would suggest he exhibited many of these deficiencies long before Hells Angels gangsters Rod Sweeney and Shane Kirton tried to knock his head off his shoulders.

It seems that Suche accepted the innocuous explanations Adamo gave Police regarding his possession of the handgun, ammunition, gangster list and bullet proof vest.  The gangster list was a joke, the vest was given to him by a nameless friend and the gun was his but a nameless person put it in his shed.

It seems to me the seizure of the handgun, ammunition, bullet proof vest and the gangster “hit list” should have set some alarm bells off in the mind of the presiding Justice.  You don’t have to be involved in criminal justice to realize these items are the tools of the trade of active criminals, gang members and drug traffickers, a theory advanced by the Crown Prosecutors.

Alas, we shouldn’t forget, Mario Adamo was not a “free actor.”

Does any of this make sense?

How can it be that Mario Adamo was not a “free actor” regarding his post injury criminal conduct when he would have undoubtedly participated in the very same type of criminal conduct pre-injury.  That somehow his “moral blameworthiness” is now reduced regarding his continuing criminal behaviour.

To add further insult, Justice Suche undermined the spirit and intent of the Truth in Sentencing Act by suggesting, “Had the outcome of this case been different, I would have given Mr Adamo a credit of 3-1 for his pre-trial custody, given the harshness of the conditions he experienced.”

(The 2-1, 3-1 pre-trial custody credits were stopped by Parliament in their attempt to restore some semblance of public confidence in the soft Canadian Justice System.)

Could it be that Justice Suche has simply lost faith in the ability of Corrections to perform their function as one of the cogs in the wheels of Justice?

You don’t have to read between the lines to draw this conclusion.  “Three years in a federal penitentiary, where many of the inmates are gang members, the object of his anxieties and fears, without appropriate programming, would be very severe.”  Suche goes on to say that such punishment would be detrimental to Adamo’s rehabilitation.

(Note: Long Proven Fact – Rehabilitation + Prison = flawed concept)

Herein lies the most interesting part of the story.

On December 20, 2010, Adamo was charged for threatening to shoot and kill a Corrections Officer if he saw him outside of prison.  As a result he faced an institutional discipline board and plead guilty.  He received ten days punitive segregation and was placed on special handling status.

In 2011, Dr Jeffrey Waldman, a psychiatrist, was retained by the defence to provide a report to the court for the purpose of sentencing.  He found that Adamo suffered from the following symptoms:

  • significant permanent intellectual impairment
  • memory problems
  • impaired impulse control & judgement
  • he has developed paranoid ideas and experiences illusions (misinterprets events or facts) all of which are consistent with psychosis.

The following facts are not in dispute regarding Mario Adamo;

  • he has participated in a criminal lifestyle
  • he was a member of a criminal street gang
  • he has a criminal record for participating in illicit drug trafficking activities
  • he’s had conflict with street gang members including Hells Angels
  • he’s had unlawful possession of prohibited firearms, ammunition and a bullet proof vest
  • he has impaired impulse control and judgement
  • he experiences illusions and paranoid ideas
  • he’s uttered threats to kill people

When you do the analysis, Mario Adamo presents more disconcerting public safety threat precursors than Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis did.

If Mario Adamo was truly not a “free actor” and had “reduced moral blameworthiness” then he should have been found not criminally responsible by reason of a mental illness.  He should have been subject to detention at a secure mental health facility until his case could be reviewed by mental health professionals who would determine what, if any, threat he poses to public safety.  (A point raised by Winnipeg Sun reporter Tom Brodbeck in his story, “Judge confused about mandatory minimums.”)

Does Justice Suche really believe public safety interests are met in this case by sentencing Mario Adamo to time served and issuing a Probation Order?

Mandatory minimum sentences were created by Parliament to enhance Public Safety and to provide some consistency when sentencing offenders for a variety of serious crimes.  Ironically, the judgements made by Justice Suche in sentencing Mario Adamo reinforces many of the reasons why we need to have mandatory minimum sentences.  Sentencing provisions that must be respected by the Judiciary.

(Expect an appeal to this latest affront to Manitoba Justice.)

Lucky for us, gun violence and mass shootings do not often occur in the Canadian experience.  I acknowledge that Mario Adamo would likely be judged a low threat for such violence.  That certainly doesn’t mean he’s not a threat to public safety, gang members who are the subject of his paranoia or Law Enforcement Officers who frequently form the last line of defence between the public and mentally ill people.

All this coming on the heels of demands for a move towards conditional sentences for people afflicted with FASD.

At a recent conference in Winnipeg, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police recognized the growing concern people with mental health issues present to Law Enforcement.  “We went from the agency of last resort to the mental health service agency of first resort”, CACP President Chief Jim Chu (Vancouver) said on the last day of the meeting.  “And that’s wrong,” he said.  “That’s failing those who are mentally ill and who deserve better care.”

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, approximately 1-5 adult Canadians or 21.3% of the population will suffer from a mental disorder at some point during their lifetime.

FASD experts report that upwards of 242,906 persons aged 53 and under were living with FASD in Canada by 2011.

These combined statistics represent a significant number of people in our Country who are not “free actors” and who might be judged to have reduced “moral blameworthiness” if they happen to commit a criminal offence.

Law Enforcement must be aware of these figures and be proactive with policy, procedure and training for front line Police Officer’s who are likely to encounter citizens who suffer from various forms of mental illness.  It’s up to the Government to take ownership of the problem and develop programs that will enhance the ability of social agencies to re-assert themselves as agencies of “first resort.”

There’s a storm brewing in this Country.

RELATED LINKS:

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS – James Turner “Judge Overrules Law on Gun Crime.”

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS – “Panel says Criminal Code Should Allow Conditional Sentences for People with FASD.”

THE GLOBE AND MAIL “Police Should not be Front Line on Mental Heath, Chief Say.”

8 Comments

  1. I cannot see any other way to hold them accountable OTHER than electing them.

    Once they are appointed, which is a political decision by the party in power, there is very little that can be done to hold them responsible for some decisions.

    This judge flagrantly ignored the law as it’s written. What will the consequences be? Nothing. At most, the decision may be reversed on appeal.

  2. Until recently, I thought the use of mandatory minimum sentences was a great strategy for ensuring some consistency from the judiciary.

    I understand your concern regarding elected judges but what options are left.

    The lack of accountability for judicial decisions is troubling to me and a significant portion of concerned citizens. Accountability is an essential component to any decision making process, without it Judges like Colleen Suche can be comfortable knowing they’re insulated from the often tragic consequences of their decisions.

    The lack of accountability also emboldens them to overstep their bounds and allows them to make decisions that may be politically motivated or designed to effect social change rather than administer the law as mandated by Parliament.

    The Police have multiple layers of oversight, maybe its time to introduce the concept to the judiciary.

    Love the term “gobsmacked” by the way.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Good read, James. I was fairly gobsmacked by this ruling, especially since Justice Suche is not normally one prone to this type of handwringing. How does she reconcile the fact that a ‘mentally compromised’ individual with apparent easy access to handguns is less of a danger to himself and the rest of us in the community, rather than in a prison? Yikes.

    I am intrigued by your thoughts on ‘accountability’ for the judiciary. Having elected judges is not the answer, as it will simply introduce a new rash of issues and pandering for votes that won’t solve anything. What sort of accountability do you feel would be effective in guarding against bunk decisions like this?

  4. These worlds seem to be colliding with great frequency.

    Time for our leaders to put on their thinking caps and figure out a strategy to avoid future tragedies from occurring.

    Thanks for commenting.

  5. There’s a corresponding aspect of the “just a little NCR” issue-crimes committed in healthcare settings/interactions that are never reported to police because the perpetrator is viewed primarily as “sick”.

  6. There is an area of law and medicine that is inadequately addressed- the co-occuring disorders of criminal conduct (antisocial behaviour) and mental health problems (including organic brain injuries and FASD). And it gets messier when you add substance abuse/addiction.

  7. I’m confident we’d see much different decisions coming out of our Courts of members of the Judiciary had some form of accountability.

    Appreciate your comments.

  8. This appears to be yet another decision made by an unaccountable judge who either A) Has no knowledge of the world outside her fancy house and safety of her courtroom. or B) Wants to make some sort of name for herself and make a political statement against the law.

    Apparently she believes this man is what? Just a “little” NCR? You cannot have it both ways.

    Until judges are elected and held accountable for their decisions, this will continue to happen.

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