Ontario judge chastises Quebec over ‘useless’ and ‘inflammatory’ sentencing report

Ontario Court of Justice
A Canadian mining company has decided not to appeal a ruling that will allow three lawsuits it is facing over alleged shootings and gang rapes at a Guatemalan project to be tried in Canada. The Canadian Press Images/Stephen C. Host

When asked to provide a basic legal document for an Ontario sentencing hearing, Quebec justice authorities instead submitted something so “useless,” so “highly partisan,” and so “inflammatory” that it prompted an Ontario judge to denounce Quebec’s approach to federal justice.

“[I]nstead of receiving something useful … the court [was] delivered a diatribe by a highly partisan and poorly trained probation officer,” Ontario Superior Court Justice Deena Baltman wrote in a March 19 decision sentencing a Montreal man on prostitution-related charges in Brampton, Ont.

“This is not only a waste of taxpayer’s monies but a disservice to the criminal justice system.”

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The report’s “gross deficiencies” were “all the more galling,” added Judge Baltman, because it was submitted more than a month late and in the wrong language. Judge Baltman wrote that she repeatedly asked the parole officer to submit the report in English. Nevertheless, the document was submitted in French, forcing the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services to quickly turn around a translation.

“This is not the first case where Quebec authorities have flouted, if not outright ignored, the sentencing requirements set out in the Criminal Code – legislation that is of federal origin and therefore applies to all jurisdictions within Canada,” wrote Judge Baltman.

Last year, a pre-sentencing report prepared in Quebec was so ‘‘shameful” and exhibited such “contempt” for the offender, that another Brampton judge claimed he was forced to hand the offender a lighter sentence.

The new sentencing hearing was for Kelvin McPherson, a 36-year-old Montreal man convicted of prostitution charges. For one and a half years, he forced his girlfriend – who was nearly 15 years his junior – to perform sex acts for strangers and seized virtually all of her income, which often topped out at more than $1,000 a day.

Under the Criminal Code, prior to any sentencing a parole officer must first prepare a pre-sentencing report; essentially a bare-bones run-down of the offender’s “age, maturity, character, behaviour, attitude and willingness to make amends.” According to the 2001 book The Law of Sentencing, the ideal pre-sentencing report should convey nothing more than the “background, character and circumstances of the person convicted.”

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What the Brampton court received instead was a lengthy discourse, prepared by Montreal-based parole officer Lisette Charland, rehashing the most comtemptuous details of McPherson’s crime and reiterating his guilt.

The document was also laced with what Judge Baltman deemed “disparaging remarks” about McPherson. Amongst them, Ms. Charland wrote that the offender blamed a “corrupt justice system,” for his conviction, asserted he was the true “victim” in the case and said the complainant “invented the whole story” to get back at him.

“Essentially she maligned him for maintaining his innocence, a factor which should be irrelevant given his plea of ‘not guilty,’” wrote Judge Baltman.

Lawyers for both the defence and the prosecution agreed the report was “improper and inflammatory,” and the hearing was only able to occur after defence lawyers had first whittled out Ms. Charland’s “extensive commentary.”

McPherson was ultimately sentenced to three years in prison.

Improper pre-sentencing reports are not purely a Quebec phenomenon.

In 2006, during the sentencing hearing for Daniel Green, a Toronto man convicted of firearms offences, the pre-sentencing report was otherwise fine, save for a bizarre addendum in which the author claimed Green “does not deserve a break and needs to be sentenced appropriately and the court shouldn’t be diverted by this sad sack story of being a victim.”

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Justice Gary Trotter had the statement “expunged” from the report.