A man who pled guilty to driving drunk when he hit and killed a Saskatchewan conservation officer will not get a shorter sentence.
Blaine Taypotat was given a 9 ½ year jail sentence for killing a conservation officer on Highway 11 near Saskatoon in May 2013. He filed an appeal of his sentence, asking for a reduction to eight years.
On Thursday, three judges inside the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in Regina heard submissions from both Taypotat’s lawyer Josephine de Whytell and Crown lawyer Andrew Davis before discussing and reaching a relatively quick decision for the appeal to be dismissed.
In her argument, de Whytell said the trial judge misapplied the Gladue factor, a sentencing principle requiring courts to take into account the background of an indigenous offender like Taypotat.
In court documents, de Whytell wrote that Taypotat was brought up in an environment “fraught with alcohol-induced violence” and that alcohol became his coping mechanism.
She said Taypotat, 38, was abused at a residential school where he spent eight years and that the collision happened shortly after he had received compensation. He was also heading to the funeral for a cousin who had been murdered.
The Crown filed arguments that Taypotat sped past the roadblock and drove down the middle of the two-lane highway while being pursued by police. That’s when he struck and killed 23-year-old Justin Knackstedt.
De Whytell hinted that race was an underlying issue in this case.
“[Taypotat] was of the opinion that a sentence of 10 years, or 9 1/2 as was actually ordered by the sentencing judge, would not have been imposed had he not been an indigenous offender who was responsible for the life of a non-indigenous conservation officer,” de Whytell told reporters outside of the courthouse.
“I don’t think there’s any truth to that suggestion at all,” Davis responded. “We’re doing the best that we can to recognize the constraints that many aboriginal people face.”
In her submission, de Whytell expressed that sentences today are longer than they were in the past. She suggested more time behind bars may not be the answer, but instead more access to proper programming may be needed, especially for aboriginal people. She calls it a societal problem.
Given those arguments, the decision still wasn’t overly surprising to her.
“I must say that we kind of expected that that was likely to be the case, but unfortunately these arguments have to be made,” she told reporters outside court. “Systemic discrimination is always going to be a problem until reconciliation is meaningful.”
The appeal judges ruled there was no reason to suggest the trial judge didn’t consider the Gladue factor and made no error in sentencing
with files from Canadian Press