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Minimal sentence for Deane


Paul Barnsley, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Sarnia Ontario







Page 1

The Ontario Provincial Police officer who was convicted of fatally shooting an unarmed Aboriginal land claim protester will serve 10 hours of community service each month for the next 18 months.

On July 3, acting-Sgt. Kenneth Deane - who Ontario Judge Hugh Fraser ruled lied to investigating officers and an Ontario court in an attempt to avoid punishment - was sentenced to serve two years less a day in jail. But, because of relatively new changes to the Criminal Code of Canada, the veteran OPP officer will not serve any jail time.

Recent changes to the criminal code give judges the option to decide if society's best interests will be served by jailing persons sentenced to less than two years in jail. A conditional sentence which allows that person to remain out of custody can be entered for an offender if the judge deems it appropriate.

The conditional sentence imposed by the judge on Deane requires the police officer to perform 180 hours of community service. He is prohibited from using firearms and must remain within the jurisdiction of the court during the period of his sentence. He must also "keep the peace and be of good behavior" and report his whereabouts to court officials. Norman Peel, Deane's lawyer, is expected to appeal the conviction within 30 days of the sentencing. The convicted police officer is currently assigned to a desk job, remaining on the OPP payroll at full salary.

Members of the George family and Aboriginal leaders across the country were outraged by what they perceive to be the leniency of the sentence. As far away as British Columbia, the chiefs of the First Nations Summit issued a statement condemning the sentence.

"It's hard to believe that in this day and age we have a judicial system that clearly discriminates based on race. The sentence given to Sgt. Deane tells Canadians that those convicted of committing offences against Aboriginal people will be given leniency. This is highly offensive and unacceptable to our people," said Grand Chief Edward John.

Chief John called on the Ontario government to appeal the sentence. The Summit chiefs believe Deane should lose his job and the right to own firearms for at least 10 years.

The Crown prosecutor in this case, Ian Scott, told Windspeaker that he has recommended to his superiors in the Ontario attorney general's ministry that the sentence be appealed, saying he is concerned with the proportion of the sentence given the severity of the crime.

Lawyers representing the victim's family say they were shocked and puzzled by the sentence.

"The family was extremely upset," said Delia Opekokew, the Cree lawyer from Saskatchewan who leads the family's legal team. "They considered the sentence to be light."

Opekokew suggested that the sentence may be an indication that the judge agrees with her legal team's position that Deane was put in a difficult situation by others who deserve a share of the blame for the Ipperwash tragedy.

"The first feeling is that the sentence was a total devaluation of the guilty verdict," said lawyer Murray Klippenstein. "But after, as we tried to account for the sentence and what it meant, we reflected on the judge's comment that so many people aside from Sgt. Deane were responsible for the build up of force and the events that night."

A third family lawyer, Andrew Orkin, said the family was devastated by the decision, especially when they realized that the law was changed a year after the shooting to more severely punish offences involving weapons.

"If he'd committed the offence a few months later he'd have been sentenced to a minimum of four years," Orkin said. "The law was changed to increase the minimum sentence for anyone who committed an offence with a firearm. It was part of the gun control legislation. To me, society sent a signal with that change."

Family members and Aboriginal leaders accuse the Ontario government of influencing - if not ordering - the OPP's decision to use force duing the confrontation at Ipperwash Provincial Park. Klippenstein said it's a possibility that the judge's choice of sentence was a message from the bench that the police officer should not shoulder all of the blame for the fatal shooting.

"Part of me says that's it," Klippenstein said.

More and more information - some accessed under freedom of information laws and some leaked - is being obtained by family lawyers and by provincial opposition parties. The information suggests that Premier Mike Harris and members of his cabinet were directly involved in the events leading up to the shooting.

A logbook kept by police officers at the scene during the days leading up to the shooting, indicates that Harris and Solicitor General Robert Runciman were monitoring the situation, something the premier denied shortly after the shooting.

On page 53 of the logbook it is recorded that the OPP commanding officer at the park, Inspector John Carson, said the morning of Sept. 5, 1995, the day before the shooting, that the "Premier and Solicitor General want to deal with this."

On page 69 it is recorded that the provincial member of Parliament for the area, government member Marcel Beaubien, was in direct contact with the premier's office three hours before the fatal shot was fired.

Beaubien sent a fax to the premier's office demanding immediate action. It's noted in the logs that he expected a response.

"If people are hurt, so be it"

A copy of that fax was obtained by Windspeaker. The cover letter, signed by Beaubien and addressed to a senior staff member at the premier's office reads: "I am attaching a letter from a respectable, responsible, tax-paying, law-abiding lawyer in my riding. He puts the message across much better than I could. Further to our telephone conversations and faxes of Sept. 5, 1995, I totally agree with [lawyer's name removed by government freedom of information censors.] It could also be said that he agrees with my suggestions of yesterday.

The next two pages of the three-page fax consist of a letter to Beaubien, signed by the un-named lawyer and copied to the premier, the solicitor general, the attorney general and the Minister of Natural Resources, the ministry responsible for administering the park.

In that letter, the lawyer refers to the occupiers as "hooligans." He added he was upset by the events at the provincial park because it "is the first place my parents took me camping."

Without dealing with the legitimacy of the land claim on the area, something the federal government recognized within a week of the shooting, the lawyer attacked the actions of the occupiers and demanded that the government confront them.

"I do not want to see the provincial government back down in the face of lawlessness. . . The time to act, and act decisively, is now. If people are hurt, so be it - laws must be enforced to be respected," the lawyer wrote.

"The Conservative government had a large law and order plank in its platform - I want to see it live up to its election promises and my expectations. I want to see Ipperwash Provincial Park remain in the public domain, and I want the law enforced to see that it does," the lawyer concluded.

Klippenstein noted that Conservative MPP Beaubien fully endorsed the sentiments expressed by the lawyer and urged the premier to act on them. He and the George family members believe that establishes a connection between the premier, his government and the death of Dudley George. They will continue with their $7 million wrongful death lawsuit against Premier Harris, several cabinet members and others. They continue to demand a public inquiry into the events of that night.

The family also asked the new Indian Affairs Minister, Jane Stewart, to order a federal inquiry. Stewart has not yet responded to that request.