by Lloyd Dolha
A man caught on videotape helping set two police cars on fire during the Montreal riot that followed the Montreal Canadien’s seventh game win over the Boston Bruins on Monday April 21st, has been given a virtual walk after a Quebec judge said his aboriginal heritage entitled him to special treatment in court.
The 32 year-old aboriginal man, whose name was given in court records as Davin Johnny, a welfare recipient, was ordered released by Quebec Court judge Juanita Westmoreland-Traore, with only the conditions that he stay away from the Montreal Bell Centre and that he honour a 10 p.m. curfew.
Johnny was caught on tape jumping on the roof of a police car, and smashing its lights in the riotous celebrations that followed the seventh game win. He was one of thousands of rioters who burnt and smashed 16 police cars as well as other cars and vandalized some ten downtown businesses. Damage to the police cars was estimated at $500,000.
At least 16 people were arrested and charged, including three minors, said police. Possible charges for the rioters include break and enter, mischief against a police vehicle, assault against a police officer.
At the bail hearing, Crown prosecutor Dominique Potvin told the judge a plain-clothes police officer saw the accused with a brick under his vest.
“The officer observed him breaking the windows of a police cruiser with a brick and Davin Johnny then went on to do the same thing on another vehicle,” said Potvin.
Potvin said Johnny later admitted to the officer he broke the window’s of “the pig’s car” and showed the brick to the officer. “He said he did it because he detested the pigs.”
In court, Johnny reportedly confirmed his actions and said he would vandalize police cars again because he “hate(s) the pigs.”
In granting Johnny the bail three days later, the judge said the aboriginal heritage of the man had to be taken into consideration.
Westmore-Traore said aboriginal Canadians “Who sometimes show a high rate of unemployment and dependence on alcohol” are at a disadvantage in society.
The grand chief of the Kahnawake, Mike Delisle, complained of the special treatment, calling it “insulting and embarrassing.”
“We’re not looking for any type of handout or any less justice to be laid down to First Nations people,” he said in an interview. “This person should have been taken to the full measure of the law, like everyone else.”
But Jonathan Rudin, the program director at Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, said the judge was probably following a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that set out guidelines for consideration of aboriginal people in conflict with the law, known as the Gladue principles.
That ruling said that judges had to look at all the unique circumstances of aboriginal people “because their history is different and it often helps to explain people’s offending behavior.”
“That decision said when sentencing an aboriginal person, judges need to go look to see if there are other options to incarceration,” said Rudin.