Wednesday, October 31, 2001
In a surprise move yesterday, the lawyers for two white ex-police officers
convicted of dumping a native man in the freezing cold requested a native
sentencing circle, to the dismay of many in Saskatoon's aboriginal
It's yet another twist in a protracted and acrimonious case. Native leaders
say it breaches the spirit of sentencing circles, an aboriginal model of meting
out justice, and puts them in the uncomfortable position of resisting a solution
they often prefer for their own people.
"It actually blindsided us, we never considered it an option. I thought it
was a joke, and somebody was trying to pull my leg," said Lawrence Joseph,
vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. "I was shocked. . .
I have some serious doubts as to whether their motives are honourable."
But the lawyer for Darrell Night, who was abandoned by constables Dan Hatchen
and Ken Munson several kilometres from his Saskatoon home on a frigid evening in
January, 2000, simply called it "curious." Donald Worme said yesterday that Mr.
Night will consider working on a sentencing-circle plan with the officers and
"Darrell is tired of the notoriety and the stress that he has experienced. He
wants healing, as much as these two individuals do, despite their failure to own
up to their scandalous conduct," Mr. Worme said yesterday.
A sentencing circle is a form of restorative justice that brings together the
victim, the offender and community members chosen by each side for a day-long
session in which they must reach an agreement on what reparations the offender
should make to the victim and the community and what other punishment is
warranted. A judge mediates the circle and makes a final decision based on the
Yesterday, Mr. Justice Eugene Scheibel of the Court of Queen's Bench gave the
officers' lawyers, Bill Roe and Morris Bodnar, until Nov. 23 to reach a
consensus with the victim on a plan for the sentencing circle before he would
agree to proceed.
According to Ross Green, a lawyer based in Melfort, Sask., and author of a
book on aboriginal justice, sentencing circles have been used on a few other
occasions to bring non-aboriginals to justice.
"The goal is changing somebody's life, rehabilitating them and turning them
around," he said. "If there is no remorse on the part of the offender, it raises
the question of whether it's the right way to go."
Yesterday, Mr. Bodnar said the officers would not give up their right to
appeal the original conviction even if they go ahead with the sentencing circle.
"We are saying we agree on particular facts of the case but that there was no
crime committed," he said.
Yesterday's proposal by the officers' lawyers further delays closure in the
case of the veteran Saskatoon police constables. They were convicted of unlawful
confinement of Mr. Night by an all-white jury in September but acquitted of
charges of assault against him. Both Mr. Hatchen and Mr. Munson were fired by
Saskatoon Police Services on the day of the guilty verdict.
But that failed to fully repair the considerable rift between Saskatoon
aboriginals and the police.
Within a week of Mr. Night's abandonment in the winter of 2000, two other
natives -- Rodney Naistus and Lawrence Wegner -- were found in the same area
frozen to death.
An 18-member RCMP task force investigation concluded that the two subsequent
deaths were not related to police actions. But it is a version of events many in
the native community do not buy.
And while the officers' lawyers argued to use the sentencing circle as a
"healing tool" in one courtroom yesterday, an inquest into Mr. Naistus's death
got under way in a larger courtroom upstairs. Yet another inquest, into Mr.
Wegner's death, is scheduled for January, and a Saskatchewan provincial
commission investigating how the justice system treats aboriginals is slated to