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Tom Rees | Criminal Defence Lawyer Winnipeg

How the media gets it wrong sometimes

The place where most of us learn what is happening in court or with the justice system is from the media. I regularly read news websites like the Winnipeg Free Press, the Winnipeg Sun, and Steinbach Online because I like to stay informed on what is happening in court. Frankly, who has the time or energy to go and sit in a courtroom for hours when you could read an article online from the comfort of your own home.

However, I sometimes get concerned when I read some articles because they contain legal information that is simply incorrect. The writers, I’m sure, are doing their best but if they do not fully understand certain aspects of the justice system or if they fail to follow up, their articles can be misleading to an untrained eye.

On May 11, 2015, I was reading this article Buffalo Point chief pleads guilty to criminal harassment on the Winnipeg Free Press Website. In the article, the writer says, “Thunder will be sentenced Sept. 8, but the guilty plea is to a summary conviction that typically involves the possibility of a fine but no jail time.”

The Criminal Code prohibits criminal harassment in section 264 and says:

No person shall, without lawful authority and knowing that another person is harassed or recklessly as to whether the other person is harassed, engage in conduct referred to in subsection (2) that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them.

Criminal harassment is a hybrid offence, which means the Crown Attorney has the discretion to proceed by way of indictment, which carries a maximum 10 year jail sentence for this offence, or by way of summary conviction. The maximum punishment for a summary conviction offence is a fine of $2,000 and/or a jail term of up to 6 months (unless there is an exception listed in the Criminal Code. All of the sentencing options that will be available to the judge sentencing Mr. Thunder would include:

  • a discharge (either an absolute discharge or conditional discharge)
  • a suspended sentence (typically with a period of probation)
  • a fine
  • intermittent imprisonment (weekend jail sentence)
  • imprisonment and probation
  • conditional sentence (house arrest)
  • combination of a fine, probation, and an intermittent sentence

The way the article was written, it sounds like no one ever receives a jail sentence for a summary conviction offence. I can tell you in my experience, that is absolutely not the case and I often see jail sentences imposed for summary conviction offences. However, for a first offender with a summary conviction offence, I would agree that a jail sentence would be unlikely in most cases. In addition to the “possibility of a fine” as the article suggests, there are several other sentences that could likely be imposed like a suspended sentence or a discharge. The articles does not even mention these other options that are available to the sentencing judge.

So, although we need rely on the media to provide us with information on the courts, accused individuals, trials, and sentencing hearings, we must be careful to analyze the information we are receiving with a critical eye.

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