Thursday, July 09, 2009

Dark justice

I followed the murder trial of Ottawa resident Wahab Dadshani and five others, partly because I might have been on the jury. But I had blogged about one of the police witnesses some time ago, felt compelled to let the judge know, and was duly excused.

In a nutshell, two rival gangs of hard men met in a children's park and one person was slashed to death--a lurid tale, but it's not what's preoccupying me at the moment.

It turned out that Dadshani did a heck of a job defending himself against a first-degree murder charge. He had no fool for a client: his measured questioning of witnesses drew the admiration of defence lawyers who attended the trial. In fact, he was applauded when his acquittal for murder was announced, although he was found guilty of manslaughter. And lawyers did pretty well for his co-accused, getting every last one of them off.

Dadshani had spent more than six years behind bars before his trial, and it was widely expected that, with the usual two-for-one policy (receiving credit for twelve years served), he would do little if any time. Manslaughter convictions do not, as a rule, attract twelve-year sentences, as defence lawyers in the case point out. For example. Etc. Etc. Etc.

But that's not what happened.

Instead, Justice Hugh McLean sentenced him to another five years.

Let me note that Dadshani, a grim and burly man with a tough past who used a sword on his victim, is not a person with whom I would be likely to socialize. But there are a number of disturbing aspects to the judge's sentence, besides the fact that it amounts to a seventeen-year stretch, one more appropriate to a second-degree murder conviction, as one of the lawyers noted.

The judge cited a number of "aggravating factors," including the location of the attack (a children's park), Dadshani's pursuit of his victim even though he had been fatally wounded, being told to stop by a park employee and his brother during the course of the attack, bringing weapons to the scene, and being on release conditions at the time for a previous murder charge.

Clearly there is no argument here that serious jail time isn't warranted. But looking a little more closely at this, Dadshani was actually acquitted of that previous murder charge for lack of evidence. Why, then, would that be an "aggravating factor?"

And the location of the attack was out of Dadshani's control. The jury found that he had been lured there by his victim, Charbel Chaar, and was ambushed by a friend of Chaar's who blasted away at him with a handgun.

Of more concern is the reason given by the judge for abandoning the "two-for-one" formula: Ottawa terrorist Momin Khawaja wasn't given two-for-one credit. Yet the cases had nothing whatsoever in common, other than that both men had what a right-wing blogger might call "funny names."
Strange that the judge couldn't seem to be able to distinguish a terrorist from a common-or-garden street thug. And the street thug, in this instance, got a substantially longer sentence than the terrorist.

Justice McLean's decision is being appealed. Quite right. It just doesn't pass the sniff test.

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