The Situation Room – ‘Dangerous offender’ designation useless, so start from scratch

Mac Olsen

If the Criminal Code of Canada’s ‘dangerous offender’ designation isn’t used where it should be, then a grave injustice is done to the victims of crime – and to society as a whole.

Nothing outrages me more than when I see a criminal get off with a slap on the wrist.

In this case, a man viciously assaults and nearly murders a homeless woman by lighting her on fire – and he doesn’t receive the ‘dangerous offender’ designation for his heinous actions.

The National Post had story on Aug. 30, about Leslie Black, who nearly murdered a homeless woman, Marlene Bird, in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in 2014.

As per the story, Black viciously beat Bird, then set her on fire. She nearly died from her injuries, which were so severe that her legs had to be amputated and she has lost most of her eyesight.

The story also says Black pled guilty to attempted murder.

For his part, Black appears to be remorseful for his actions.

“I apologize for what I did,” he said. “I still can’t forgive myself.”

Also according the story, Black says he is not a violent person and wants to get the help he needs to succeed in life.

“I’m usually a happy-go-lucky guy.”

His lawyer made the comment in court that, while Black’s actions were violent, it doesn’t mean that he would violently offend again.

And the judge in this case has decided that Black should not receive the ‘violent offender’ designation.

As for Bird, she said in letters that she can’t do anything on her own, even simple things like picking a blueberry or going to the bathroom.

She also fears going into Prince Albert. The story ends with the testimony of a psychologist and a psychiatrist:

“One psychologist testified Black is not necessarily at a high risk to reoffend if he gets intensive, long-term therapy. But another psychiatrist testified that officials can’t presume to understand Black and what he’s capable of given what he did to Bird even though he had no history of violence.”

Here is what Public Safety Canada has to say, as an overview, of the ‘Dangerous Offender’ designation on their website:

“The Dangerous Offender provisions of the Criminal Code are intended to protect all Canadians from the most dangerous violent and sexual predators in the country.
“Individuals convicted of these offences can be designated as a Dangerous Offender during sentencing if a sentencing court is satisfied that the offender constitutes a threat to the life, safety or physical or mental well-being of the public.
“Where an offender is designated by the court as a Dangerous Offender, the offender may be sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment.”
I am not speaking for Bird regarding the outcome of this case.

However, homeless advocacy groups should be outraged by the decision not to impose the ‘dangerous offender’ designation in Black’s case. This is a grave miscarriage of the justice system.

What happened to her was an atrocity, heinous in the extreme. How can Black’s lawyer and the psychologist say that he isn’t at risk of repeating his violent crime?

Realistically and honestly, they can’t say with an absolute guarantee that he won’t commit such an horrific act ever again. Moreover, the issue in an atricious, heinous crime like this is – trust.

No one who did what Black did can ever be trusted not to commit such violence ever again.

We’re not talking about a child pulling the prank of starting a mischief fire in a garbage can, or breaking a windowon private property. Rather, it’s the mental stablity of people like Black who should always be suspected – and should never, ever again be trusted once it’s broken, even if they are remorseful.

They forfeit their right to live as free citizens. Public safety society is always at risk if they are allowed to return to society.

If they’re released and commit the same or similar atrocity, then the justice system is brought into disrepute for its failure to uphold public safety. That’s absolutely unacceptable.

It’s always a hard task to balance the rights of the criminal against the rights of the victim(s) and the security of society. Justice and security must to be fair for all.

But given what I’ve read on the Public Safety Canada website, it’s time to abolish the ‘Dangerous Offender’ designation in the Criminal Code of
Canada and start from scratch, with an eye to making it far easier to impose that penalty in cases like Black’s.

Advocacy groups should push for this as well. Victims like Bird deserve assurance that the people who commit such acts of violence are never set free.

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