There’s an old saying about sympathy.
It’s an off colour retort regarding where you can find it.
Lucky for Sandra Dignard, a 37-year-old mother of four, sympathy is not so hard to find in Manitoba Justice.
Enter Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Sheldon W. Lanchbery.
“I’m not without heart. I’m not a fan of mandatory minimums because I believe that justices or judges have the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff,” Lanchbery said during Dignard’s recent sentencing hearing.
Dignard is facing a two (2) year mandatory minimum sentence after Lanchbery convicted her of possession of 100 morphine pills which she attempted to traffic into the Stony Mountain Penitentiary during a conjugal visit with her boyfriend, a Hells Angels prospect.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this is one (case) that no right-thinking person could imagine that what I’m going to have to do today is fit and proper and I don’t see any way I can work around them,” Lanchbery lamented.
In what Winnipeg Free Press crime reporter Katie May suggested was an “unprecedented move,” Lanchbery put off Dignard’s sentencing date for two (2) months to allow her time to make child care arrangements.
Unlike other rogue Manitoba Judges, Lanchbery indicated he intended to follow the law and begrudgingly impose the mandatory minimum sentence;
“Yes, I have discretion, but there’s a reason why those mandatory minimums are in place. I don’t agree with them, but I am required to follow the law as well,” Lanchbery stressed.
Justice Lanchbery’s comments should be a concern to all “right thinking” citizens of our Province who are concerned about criminal justice and public safety.
I’m concerned Justice Lanchbery is not a fan of mandatory minimum sentences because he believes justices and judges have the ability to sort the “wheat from the chaff” or in other words, make the right decisions.
My experience in law enforcement tells me different.
I’m concerned Justice Lanchbery believes people who don’t think like him are not “right-thinking.”
I’m concerned Justice Lanchbery fails to recognize how dangerous morphine is in the hands of inmates in Federal Corrections. I fear he doesn’t fully appreciate the dangers these drugs present to inmates and the Correctional Officers who have to deal with them after they’ve consumed these mind altering substances.
I’m concerned Justice Lanchbery doesn’t seem to put much weight on the fact Dignard made earlier drug runs and profited from her efforts to traffic narcotics into a Federal Prison.
I’m concerned he put off sentencing for two (2) months for a convicted offender to make arrangements for child care when she was charged in 2012 and had approximately five (5) years to plan for the anticipated negative outcome.
I’m concerned about sympathetic judges who make decisions based on emotion and not the law.
Separating the Wheat from the Chaff
I could illustrate many cases where judges and justices failed to separate the “wheat from the chaff” but will limit examples to a few of the more egregious judgements.
One Day in Jail for Manslaughter
On August 26,2001, Iraqi immigrant Chya Saleh was attacked by a young offender armed with an eight ball in a tube sock. (A deadly weapon often used and carried by street gang members.) The youth smashed Saleh over the head and fractured his skull.
Saleh fled to his apartment but succumbed to his injuries and died sitting in his easy chair. Saleh came to Canada to find the peace and security that simply didn’t exist in his home Country.
Judge Ron Myers sentenced his killer to one day in jail indicating the Youth Criminal Justice Act prohibited judges from considering deterrence as a sentencing factor.
Could any “right-thinking” person think an offender should do one day in jail for killing someone?
Flowers, Movie Passes, Standing Ovations
In 2006, Judge Marva Smith presented a bouquet of flowers, a card and movie passes to a young female offender she was supposed to be sentencing for a violent robbery offence. Smith asked everyone in the courtroom to give the girl a standing ovation for her efforts to rehabilitate since her arrest.
The gesture offended victims of crime and exposed a tremendously flawed and inconsistent justice system.
It wasn’t long before the teen was back in custody accused of kicking a police officer in the groin after a drunken rampage.
Could any “right-thinking” person applaud a judge who becomes so emotionally involved in a case that she abdicates her role as judge and substitutes it for the role of cheer leader?
Worst Rape Case Ever Nets Ridiculously Soft Sentence
In 2013, Johnnie Kilbourne (23), an offender from Oxford House, was sentenced for twelve (12) exceedingly violent offences that included;
- Sexual Assault Causing Bodily Harm
- Aggravated Assault
- Forcible Confinement
- Choking to Overcome Resistance
The charges involved the violent vaginal, oral and anal rape of a woman conducted in front of her boyfriend who had been tied up, burned with a cigarette and stabbed. After raping the woman he abducted her, stole a vehicle (which he later got stuck and set on fire), then dragged her into the forest and violently sexually assaulted her again.
The woman required multiple surgeries to repair significant internal injuries.
The attack essentially destroyed the woman’s life.
The sentencing judge stressed it was one of the most shockingly violent, horrific cases he had ever adjudicated. He further indicated a just and fit sentence should be no less than twenty-one (21) years incarceration.
After the generous application of a number of soft Canadian justice sentencing principles, which included;
- The totality principle
- The Gladue principle
- Pre-trial credit principle
Once these generous discounts were applied Kilbourne’s global sentence was reduced to approximately eight (8) years incarceration.
(The sentence does not account for the impact of parole which would be applied in the post script.)
The rapid decent from a 21 year sentence to an inconvenient 8 year stint in jail should be concerning to every “right-thinking” law-abiding citizen.
The travesty prompted Winnipeg Sun Columnist Tom Brodbeck to write;
“I don’t recall the totality of horror, anguish and pain the victims suffered in the case being reduced in any way. It’s a bloody disgrace.”
Get Out of Jail Free Card for Rapist
In 2015, Justice Colleen Suche sentenced a thirty-five (35) year old man who was convicted of tying his female partner to a crib, with the baby inside, burning her tail bone with a lighter and raping her.
The charges included sexual assault with a weapon and forcible confinement.
The Crown sought a sentence of six (6) years in prison while the defence asked for time served and probation.
Suche sided with the defence.
In her decision she indicated;
“There’s no evidence before me this was part of a cycle of violence or intimidation.”
In one telling utterance, Justice Suche exposed her dreadful lack of understanding regarding the deadly cycle of domestic violence.
In my experience, domestic violence offenders rarely start their offending behaviour with rape, forcible confinement and torture.
The cycle normally starts off much lower on the abuse scale.
Thanks to Justice Suche, the sadistic rapist walked out of the courtroom a free man.
Shot to the Head not Attempt Murder
In October 2009, Jared Smoke (24) attacked the mother of his infant child by punching and kicking her into submission.
The attack occurred in front of guests the woman’s children.
At some point Smoke dragged the woman to a bedroom where the assault continued.
After punching and kicking the victim several more times, Smoke retrieved a sawed off bolt-action .204 Ruger rifle, pointed it at her head and pulled the trigger. The woman raised her arm to block the shot as Smoke pulled the trigger.
The medical report noted massive destruction of her right forearm, significant soft tissue defect, major nerve damage to the muscles supplying her forearm and hand and arterial injury. The bullet apparently glanced by her right cheek and into her right skull area causing a scalp wound and fracture of both her cheek and skull.
After the shooting Smoke and the other guests fled from the suite leaving the victim in a pool of blood with her infant in a bed and her two-year old wandering about the residence.
The Crown sought a conviction for attempt murder and put forward a strong argument in support.
The Defence suggested the shooting was an accident precipitated by the victim who grabbed for the firearm causing it to discharge.
Justice Chris Martin rejected the theory the shooting was accidental but astonishingly failed to connect the dots on the attempt murder charge.
“I’m not sure he specifically intended to kill her and as such, he’s entitled to the reasonable doubt on this issue. I find him not guilty of attempt murder,” Martin stated.
Do the math…
Smoke punched and kicked his victim to the point she was essentially defenceless, armed himself with a rifle, aimed it at the woman’s head and intentionally pulled the trigger.
Somehow that’s not attempt murder.
I can assure you few people are ever shot in the head and live to talk about it.
I respectfully suggest even the average person is capable of understanding the act of shooting another human being in the head is a risky endeavour likely to cause death.
Sort the “wheat from the chaff” on that one.
I’ve seen many examples of Judges expressing condemnation to offenders during sentencing hearings for their heinous crimes leaving one to believe the judicial hammer was about to fall.
In many of those cases the talk was far more severe than the criminal consequences.
The same is often true when offenders are sentenced.
Judges threaten severe consequences should the offending behaviour continue and the offender finds him or herself before the courts once again.
Enter Justice Albert Clearwater
In June, 2010, serial property offender Cary Scott Preston plead guilty to a number of sophisticated commercial break and enter offences and received a sentence of seven (7) years incarceration.
Preston’s was believed to be responsible for committing dozens of offences netting cash proceeds exceeding $200,000.00. He also caused significant property damage to the businesses he targeted.
During sentencing Justice Albert Clearwater threatened serious consequences should Preston ever appear before court again suggesting he should expect to receive “maximum and consecutive” sentences for any future criminal exploits.
(The maximum sentence for a commercial break & enter is ten (10) years incarceration.)
By the fall of 2011 Preston was back at work.
Police collared him in the midst of another prolific crime spree and charged him with break, enter & theft x 11.
Police indicated Preston netted in excess of $100,000.00. as proceeds of his crimes.
In January, 2015, Preston was sentenced to four (4) years in prison.
He received pre-trial custody credit of 1.5 days for every 1 day served.
His “go forward” sentence was 2 years less a day.
He is currently out of custody.
Sources indicate he’s back at work.
(If the courts had been true to their word Preston should have been sentenced to 110 years vs the 4 years he caught. Now, not even I think that kind of sentence would be realistic but the four year sentence has to be seen as a complete failure of the criminal justice system.)
That brings us back to Justice Lanchbery.
I would like Justice Lanchbery to know, like it or not, there are valid reasons why we have mandatory minimum sentences in the Criminal Code of Canada.
The erosion of the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system and the frustration experienced with inconsistent, inappropriate sentences are valid concerns.
Like it or not, those concerns were addressed by Parliament with mandatory minimum sentences.
The examples noted in this article are just a small sampling.
I didn’t bother to mention recent outrageous rulings made by Canadian Judges adjudicating sexual assault cases.
(Intoxicated women deemed capable of consenting to sex acts & the notion women should keep their knees together to avoid sexual assault.)
Unfortunately, not all judges or justices have the ability to separate the “wheat from the chaff” as Justice Lanchbery suggests.
I reject the notion people who support mandatory minimum sentences are not “right-thinking.”
They just don’t think like Justice Lanchbery.
I don’t think like Justice Lanchbery.
Sandra Dignard, manipulated by a her boyfriend or not, knew what she was doing when she did it and knew there would be consequences if she was caught.
Sandra Dignard, mother of four or not, made a choice to put her boyfriend and her desire to make a quick buck ahead of her children.
Sandra Dignard, remorseful or not, put the lives of innocent Correctional Officers and inmates in danger by trafficking dangerous drugs into a Federal Penitentiary.
Sandra Dignard, clean and sober or not, must face the consequences of her unfortunate decisions.
Yes, there are reasons why we have mandatory minimum sentences.
I just wish Justice Lanchbery, and judges like him, could respect and appreciate that.
The Police Insider does not intend to paint all judges or justices with the same brush and would like to acknowledge the majority of judges render proper, thoughtful, fair and just decisions.
The cases illustrated in this story represent a small percentage of the thousands of judgements made every year in Canadian courtrooms.
That doesn’t lessen the impact questionable decisions have, in cause or effect, in bringing the administration of justice or the reputation of the judiciary into disrepute.
Issues regarding criminal justice and the decisions made by the judiciary should be a concern to all of us.
Justice Sheldon W. Lanchbery was appointed to the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench in 2013.
He was admitted to the Bar of Manitoba in 1980.
He was a sole practitioner since 1981.
His main areas of practice were administrative law, wills and estates, corporate law, family law and municipal law with a niche in oil and gas mining.
He does not seem to have prior experience in the criminal justice system.
Common Side Effects of Morphine Abuse
- Reduced level of consciousness
- Extreme fatigue
- Memory problems
- Weight loss
- Breathing difficulties
- Muscle twitches
- Small patches of rashes
*Source – canadianaddicitonrehab.ca