She's a convicted drug dealer with a tragic background that came from growing up on a Manitoba reserve. And she is exactly the type of criminal Canada's highest court says should be in line for a reduced penalty based on her upbringing.
Rita Parenteau was supposed to be sentenced on Monday after pleading guilty to having a large quantity of cocaine and morphine inside her Winnipeg home. The Crown is seeking a penitentiary term, while her lawyer wants a conditional sentence that allows her to remain free in the community.
But the case has now been adjourned indefinitely because justice officials concede there hasn't been a thorough examination of her native ancestry. A probation report previously ordered late last year was riddled with errors and missing information, court heard Monday. For example, the report included a detailed history of life on the remote Shamattawa reserve. Yet Parenteau is from Lake St. Martin.
"It was fascinating reading but entirely irrelevant," said defence lawyer Darren Sawchuk. He said the courts clearly must proceed with caution, especially in light of last Friday's ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that says judges must consider more lenient sentences for offenders just like Parenteau.
"There's an entire history here that would be of assistance, especially with what came out from the Supreme Court," said Sawchuk. In Parenteau's case, Sawchuk said there is a litany of horror that includes watching a young relative beat her abusive husband several years ago.
Queen's Bench Justice Rick Saull agreed, saying it would be dangerous to proceed without a complete picture of Parenteau's past.
"There are some credible issues counsel has in terms of how this has been done," he said. As a result, Saull has now ordered a new report on Parenteau to be completed by an independent organization that specializes in them rather than probation services.
Justice sources told the Free Press this single case shows how careful officials are going to be, especially in light of the edict from the country's High Court. The result may be an already slow-moving justice system becoming even more backlogged as the wait for reports grows longer and delays are inevitable.
The Supreme Court said last week some judges have failed in their responsibility to probe the background of an aboriginal criminal based on a 1998 case called Regina v. Gladue. In that case, the court cited the over-representation of aboriginal offenders who are behind bars and called for alternatives to be explored based on their history.
"I don't know how far (last week's ruling) takes me other than to reinforce what I already knew to be the case," Saull said Monday.
Clearly not every Canadian judge had the same mindset.
"Application of the Gladue principles is required in every case involving an aboriginal offender," Justice Louis LeBel wrote last week on behalf of the 6-1 majority ruling. "The failure to apply the Gladue principles in any case would also result in a sentence that is not fit and is not consistent with the fundamental principle of proportionality."
What to consider
What factors is a judge required to consider in a Gladue report? Justice Louis LeBel outlined them in last week's Supreme Court of Canada decision.
History of colonialism
Attendance at residential schools
Lower educational attainment
Higher rates of substances abuse
Higher rates of suicide