Decisions involving African-Canadians could have major impact
Jan 17, 2019 By Melody Izadi
Two cases before the Ontario Court of Appeal (OCA) — where race was a factor in securing lesser prison terms — will have a significant impact on future sentencing decisions should the original rulings stand, says Toronto criminal lawyer Melody Izadi.
Izadi, an associate with Caramanna, Friedberg LLP, says the public may get upset over the outcomes, but there is sound legal and social reasoning behind the decisions.
But they won't apply in every case involving an African-Canadian, she says, noting one judge in an unrelated case has already considered the ruling and declined to apply it.
It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card across the board, Izadi tells AdvocateDaily.com.
“There has to be some contextual notice as to what the specific problems are,” she says. “And there is a duty on defence counsel to articulate why certain issues have affected this person. It’s not just a checkbox.”
The OCA decisions involved two African-Canadians, says Izadi, who was not involved in either matter and comments generally.
Justice Shaun Nakatsuru presided over both cases and drew his conclusions from a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision known as R. v. Gladue, she says.
That case held that a First Nations woman accused of manslaughter in the stabbing death of her partner should have her sentence reduced because the court did not adequately consider her background as an Indigenous person, Izadi explains. Her background of poverty, tragedy, and a medical condition were major reasons for her burst of anger the night of the stabbing, the court held, and should have been considered.
The ruling set a precedent and has since been applied in many cases involving First Nations people. However, this is the first time it’s been extended to African-Canadians, Izadi says.