A driver who struck and killed a woman and her three young daughters nearly two years ago “gambled with other people’s lives” when he took the wheel after consuming cannabis, an Ontario judge said Monday in sentencing him to 17 years behind bars.
Brady Robertson’s “cavalier attitude” towards driving laws called for a significant sentence, Ontario Court Justice Sandra Caponecchia told a Brampton, Ont., court.
Robertson had accumulated 15 driving infractions in the 2 1/2 years before the June 18, 2020, crash in Brampton that killed Karolina Ciasullo and her daughters Klara, Lilianna and Mila, who were between the ages of six and one.
Just two days earlier, on June 16, Robertson had failed to stop at an intersection and crashed into a barrier, the judge said. As a result of the impact, he was “jolted out of his slumber,” and sped away to evade police, she said. The fact that no one was hurt in that incident is “pure happenstance,” the judge said.
Robertson was not deterred by any previous penalties for his driving, and the June 16 crash did not serve as a “wake-up call,” as it should have, Caponecchia said. Instead, on June 18, he got behind the wheel again, having consumed cannabis earlier that morning, she said.
On both occasions, Robertson’s licence was suspended, and he was driving without insurance, she said.
“I have avoided calling both crashes an accident. That is because both were anything but an accident; both crashes were crimes, not accidents,” she said.
“Both crimes were 100 per cent avoidable, had Mr. Robertson had any regard for the lives and safety of others.”
Robertson, 21, will receive nearly three years in credit for time already served awaiting trial, bringing the total down to 14 years and two months. His sentence relates to both crashes and includes a driving ban spanning 20 years beyond his release.
Gasps could be heard amid sobs in the packed courtroom as Caponecchia delivered her sentence.
Outside, Ciasullo’s relatives denounced the sentence as inadequate in light of Robertson’s actions and the permanent, devastating impact on their lives.
“As much as Canada is a great country, I am beyond disgusted with the justice system that someone who takes away four lives gets so little time,” said Anna Martin, Ciasullo’s sister.
“Our whole family is devastated … No one is the same anymore.”
Connie Ciasullo, Karolina Ciasullo’s sister-in-law, said that after credit for time served, Robertson will spend roughly 3 1/2 years behind bars for each life he took. Her brother, Michael Ciasullo, will never recover from the deaths of his wife and daughters, she said.
Robertson was playing “Russian roulette” when he got behind the wheel that day, she said. “It happened to be our family that suffered, but it could have been any other family,” she added.
Prosecutors sought a 23-year prison sentence and a lifetime driving ban for Robertson. The defence argued Robertson should be sentenced to seven years and face a 10-year driving ban.
Robertson pleaded guilty to four counts of dangerous driving causing death in connection with the fatal crash.
But he pleaded not guilty to four counts of operation while impaired by drugs causing death, and his lawyers challenged the constitutionality of Canada’s law setting out a legal limit for THC blood concentration when driving.
Caponecchia found Robertson had a blood THC concentration of 40 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood about 45 minutes after the crash, which is eight times the legal limit.
The constitutional challenge was rejected last month, and as a result, Robertson was found guilty on the impaired driving charges. He was also found guilty of dangerous driving in the June 16, 2020, crash.
In sentencing submissions last month, both the Crown and the defence compared and contrasted Robertson’s case with that of Marco Muzzo, a drunk driver who killed three children and their grandfather in a 2015 collision in Vaughan, Ont.
Muzzo pleaded guilty in 2016 to four counts of impaired driving causing death and two of impaired driving causing bodily harm in the crash that killed nine-year-old Daniel Neville-Lake, his five-year-old brother Harrison, their two-year-old sister Milly and the children’s 65-year-old grandfather, Gary Neville.
Muzzo was sentenced to 10 years behind bars and a 12-year driving ban, and was released on parole last year.
“Other than the tragic consequences in both cases, the offence and the offenders are notably different,” Caponecchia said Monday.
Robertson was speeding at a much greater degree than Muzzo, going nearly twice the posted limit for that zone, she said. Unlike Robertson, Muzzo had not caused a crash two days earlier, nor is there evidence he tried to evade police, she said.
Muzzo was also assessed as posing a low risk of reoffending, he was licensed to drive and there is no indication he failed to comply with the licensing and registration requirements for his vehicle, she said. Muzzo had 12 driving violations in as many years, fewer than Robertson accumulated in 2 1/2 years, the judge said.
The maximum penalty for impaired driving causing death was increased to a life sentence in 2000, the judge said. More recently, in 2018, federal legislation increased the maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death to life in prison, and created new offences for cannabis-impaired driving, which can also carry a sentence of life imprisonment in cases where someone is killed, she said.
Those changes suggest Parliament wanted those offences to be punished more harshly, Caponecchia said.
Jennifer Neville-Lake, who lost her father and children in the crash caused by Muzzo, said Robertson’s sentence is “a step in the right direction.”
Neville-Lake knew Karolina Ciasullo and both families have sought comfort with each other as they grieve, she said Monday outside the courthouse.
In her ruling, Caponecchia acknowledged Robertson has lived a difficult life, marred by poverty, abandonment, drug use and abuse. He began using marijuana at age 11, and cocaine and methamphetamines by 13, she said.
Robertson was shuffled between Ontario and Alberta in the care of various relatives, and dropped out of school at 16, she said. He also recently learned of his Metis background, she said.
“Mr. Robertson’s background is relevant, even in the face of such a monumental tragedy. His youth, lack of record, remorse and harsh pretrial detention are all mitigating factors,” she said.
At a sentencing hearing last month, Robertson apologized for his actions, saying he was “deeply tormented” by what he did. Robertson said he will feel guilty for the rest of his life and wants to take responsibility for his actions.
“I want to pay for what I did, I want to serve my time,” he said. “This family deserves justice.”