On February 11, 2015, after four long months, Justice Shaun Nakatsuru delivered his ruling to 29-year-old Jesse Armitage who was caught stealing while on probation.
In this case, the judge departed from the norm and wrote his decision not for the legal community, but for the accused, who had a grade eight education… “As lawyers first and then judges, we get used to using words that are long and complicated…In this case, I am writing for Jesse Armitage.”
Justice Nakatsuru drummed down the language with shorter sentences and simple language. He also noted the accused’s criminal history, troubled personal past and recognized the many injustices aboriginal Canadians face. Mr. Armitage was raised by a single mother who struggled with alcohol abuse and a grandmother who was a survivor of the Residential Schools system. Mr. Armitage left home at age 15, became a father at age 19 and barely sees his son. Mr. Armitage relies on welfare and has had run-ins with the law for many years.
Over the years, Mr. Armitage has plead guilty to many offences. In committing his offences, he has the same plan which sometimes works and sometimes does not. He goes into businesses, such as shops or restaurants through the open back or front doors and heads to the back to see what he can steal. He grabs whatever is not locked up and of some value. If he is ever stopped, he makes up an excuse that he was looking for the washroom. He has committed many of these offences while he was on probation or bail and continues to breach court orders by continuing to commit these crimes.
Justice Nakatsuru acknowledged that all too often judgments are written in “lawyer language” and the decisions are difficult to interpret by the general public. This is quite unfortunate as these judgments do a disservice to those who need to know how the law functions and how the law impacts their everyday lives.
This decision is considered groundbreaking as the judge not only touched the accused, but the entire community from where the accused came from. He wrote, “One important thing I must consider is the past injustices done to the aboriginal peoples in this country. How that has affected the present; how that has affected Mr. Armitage.”
Furthermore, Nakatsuru took into account Armitage’s background as a factor in sentencing, acknowledging that jail never rehabilitated or helped Mr. Armitage. He stated, “If I could describe Mr. Armitage as a tree, his roots remain hidden beneath the ground. I can see what he is now. I can see the trunk. I can see the leaves. But much of what he is and what has brought him before me, I cannot see. They are buried. But I am sure that some of those roots involve his aboriginal heritage and ancestry. They help define who he is. They have been a factor in his offending. They must be taken into account in his sentencing…”
Armitage was given a conditional sentence and his 14 months of jail time would be served in the community. The sentence included house arrest with exceptions, such as attending culturally appropriate counselling, ensuring he wrote apologies to his victims, and making sure he attended a native program.
Unfortunately, within days of the decision, Mr. Armitage was arrested again for doing the same thing he always did. When Mr. Armitage came back into court, he asked for the remainder of his conditional sentence order to be served in jail so he could be sent to the St. Lawrence Valley Treatment Centre. He wanted to ensure he would have enough time in custody to fully make use of the help available to him. He knew there was no other way for him to get healthy, and he was ready to change.
For a full link to the inspiring decision: R v. Armitage.