OTTAWA - The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that an aboriginal's troubled background must take precedence when sentencing violent offenders who have breached long-term supervision orders.
In a landmark 6-1 decision, the justices ruled on a pair of cases involving two violent and deeply scarred men who had been placed on long-term supervision and were sentenced after violating the terms of those orders.
Both men were addicts and had lengthy, violent criminal histories that included sexual assaults.
The long-anticipated ruling marked the first time the high court has ruled on how the Gladue principles -- rules set by Parliament on aboriginal sentencing -- are to be applied in cases involving long-term, violent offenders.
The justices said the issue of aboriginal background must be considered even in cases where the accused have been placed under long-term supervision by the courts.
"To be clear, courts must take judicial notice of such matters as the history of colonialism, displacement and residential schools and how that history continues to translate into lower educational attainment, lower incomes higher unemployment, higher rates of substance abuse and suicide and, of course, higher levels of incarceration for Aboriginal Peoples," Justice Louis LeBel wrote for the majority.
"Failing to take these circumstances into account would violate the fundamental principle of sentencing."
Those Criminal Code provisions are not a "race-based discount on sentencing," LeBel wrote.
They are a "remedial provision designed to ameliorate the serious problem of overrepresentation of Aboriginal People in Canadian prisons and to encourage sentencing judges to have recourse to a restorative approach to sentencing."
Friday's ruling pointedly remarked that the courts have not done enough to take into account the new aboriginal sentencing requirements that flow from the Supreme Court's 1999 ruling in the Gladue case.
"Gladue affirms this requirement and recognizes that, up to this point, Canadian courts have failed to take into account the unique circumstances of aboriginal offenders that bear on the sentencing process."
In one of the cases, a man who breached an order to abstain from alcohol and was sentenced to three years for the breach had his sentence cut to one year.
Manasie Ipeelee, a 39-year-old Inuk man originally from Iqaluit, is the son of an alcoholic mother who froze to death when he was five. By age 11, Ipeelee had developed his own alcohol addiction and would find himself before the courts for the first time a year later.
Ipeelee would go on to rack up a long criminal record as an adult that contained 24 convictions, including sexual assault.
In August 1999, Ipeelee committed the offence that would lead to his designation as a long-term offender. While drunk, he sexually assaulted a 50-year-old woman, who was sleeping in an abandoned van used by homeless people.
"When she called out for help, he told her to shut up or he would kill her. He then sexually assaulted her. The victim was finally able to escape when Mr. Ipeelee fell asleep," Friday's ruling stated.
The courts deemed Ipeelee a substantial risk to reoffend. He was sentenced to six years in prison for the attack, to be followed by a 10-year supervision order.
Ipeelee breached that order when he was caught cycling drunk in Kingston, Ont. …