A Burns Lake area teen who murdered his 17-year-old sibling when he was 15 will be released from prison before his 20th birthday under a sentence handed down by the B.C. Supreme Court in Smithers last Tuesday.
The 19 year-old, whose name is withheld due to a publication ban, pleaded guilty earlier this year to second-degree murder for killing his older sibling with a bat in 2011. The crime took place during a dispute over comments made on social media.
The teen had been in custody since he was arrested and charged in 2012, more than two years before last week’s hearing.
Supreme Court Justice Marvyn Koenigsberg imposed the maximum seven-year sentence, including a further six months in custody ending in April next year.
The remainder of the sentence will be served in the community under an Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision (IRCS) order, which involves regular treatment and therapy.
Justice Koenigsberg handed down her decision after considering the recommendations in a pre-sentence report prepared by a youth probation officer from the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Other exhibits included psychological assessments and a DVD outlining the history of First Nations in the Burns Lake area.
The court heard the killer had an abusive and traumatic childhood that led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder when he was still a toddler.
Crown prosecutor Declan Brennan said the man and his sibling were in and out of foster care placements as children, and that their extended family had experienced trauma “on a scale that is unusual”.
However, the teen was said to have shown strong intellectual ability and had been regularly attending school classes since he was placed in custody.
Defence lawyer Terry La Liberte said it would be a “sin” to allow the 19 year-old to be placed in an adult prison.
He said unlike in other cases, the killer had not shown a pattern of criminal behaviour, and that he had shown remorse.
“Prison should be a last resort,” La Liberte told Justice Koenigsberg.
Both the crown prosecution and defence lawyers agreed the maximum seven-year sentence served under the IRCS program was appropriate, however Brennan called for the man to spend more time in prison.
Justice Koenigsberg asked youth probation officers to provide more information about the details of the IRCS plan, which would aim to help the man transition into independent living by providing regular support and therapy.
A section of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the program is reserved for young people who have committed a violent crime and are suffering from “a mental illness or disorder, psychological disorder or an emotional disturbance”.
It provides $100,000 in funding annually for ongoing treatment and intensive supervision for a person who shows signs that treatment would reduce their risk of committing the same or similar offence.
However, the funding is only available for people in the youth justice system.
Because the convicted man turned 20 in 2015, he would be transferred to an adult facility if he was still in custody at that time. He would need to be released before his birthday to access the program.
If he was sentenced to a further two years or more in custody, he would be sent to a federal prison.
Justice Koenigsberg expressed concern that allowing him to go back into the community too early could set him up for failure, however she agreed with the defence position that he should not be sent to an adult facility.
“Is he more at risk in the custodial system for one year or more, or more at risk if he’s living independently in six months?” she asked herself.
Ultimately, Justice Koenigsberg deemed the risk to the teen’s ability to reintegrate into the community would be greater if he remained in custody long enough to go to an adult prison.
She said she wanted the convicted teen to have the benefit of the IRCS funding because she believed he had a chance to become a positive person in the community.
She crafted the sentence to ensure the man could access the program by ending the custodial portion of the sentence before his 20th birthday.
His mother, who was in the courtroom for the duration of the hearing, wept after the sentence was handed down.
Having watched the DVD about First Nations communities in the Burns Lake area, Justice Koenigsberg said she believed there were opportunities for him to return to his home town after he was rehabilitated elsewhere.
Youth probation officers will present the details of the IRCS plan in March, when the man reappears in B.C. Supreme Court one month before his release.