A career criminal has been sentenced to eight years in prison for his latest brush with the law: Holding up a drug store while masked and claiming he was armed with a gun.
But time will tell whether the penalty, handed down Thursday, ultimately stands. The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear arguments in the unique case based on a Crown appeal. No date for that hearing has been set.
John Steele was convicted last year of robbery, disguise with intent and breaching a probation order for the 2010 incident at a Portage Avenue pharmacy.
The Crown gave notice it would pursue a long-term offender (LTO), or even dangerous offender (DO) designation against Steele based on his lengthy record and high risk to reoffend.
As a LTO, a judge would place a 10-year probation-type order on Steele in addition to a fixed prison term. As a DO, Steele would be given an indefinite stint behind bars with no guarantee of ever being released.
However, under the Criminal Code, a person must be guilty of what’s known as a serious personal injury offence (SPIO) for the Crown to pursue such a sentence.
The trial judge said she wasn’t convinced the robbery involved "the use or attempted use of violence" as required by the SPIO legislation. Instead, Queen’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey said there was an "implied threat of violence," which she said did not meet the necessary criteria.
The Manitoba Court of Appeal later upheld McKelvey’s decision, prompting the Crown to seek leave before the country’s highest court.
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled a significant point of law is at stake. If the Crown’s appeal is ultimately successful, the sentence handed down Thursday would become moot.