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This article was published 12/10/2017 (253 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — A Winnipeg man, arrested Tuesday following two high-speed police chases, is behind a Supreme Court application that could drastically change the use of Indigenous sentencing guidelines.
Wayne Daniel Rennie’s request stems from a previous conviction. If successful, the application could affect hundreds of cases involving people who were adopted into non-Indigenous families.
Rennie, 26, was charged with multiple offences this week, after police claim a man stole a Ford pickup truck, filled it with gasoline without paying then drove dangerously through the Transcona neighbourhood.
Rennie already was on probation, having been sentenced in December 2015 to 30 months in prison (with credit for seven months already spent behind bars) for a July 2015 road-rage incident.
The 2015 incident began when an officer in Winnipeg ticketed Rennie for using his cellphone while he was driving a five-ton delivery van. In response, Rennie rammed the van into five parked police cruisers outside the Public Safety Building and drove off.
That prompted a 100-kilometre highway chase that ended just west of Portage la Prairie. Rennie later pleaded guilty to mischief, fleeing police and assaulting an officer with a weapon.
That 2015 case is now before the Supreme Court, which will decide imminently whether to hear Rennie’s appeal.
"This is of utmost importance in the Canadian province with the largest population of Aboriginal people and one of the greatest proportions of Aboriginal people in custody," Rennie’s lawyer, Zilla Jones, argued in court filings.
The case surrounds who’s entitled to special Indigenous consideration at sentencing, known as Gladue factors. These detail how intergenerational trauma may have contributed to an offender committing a crime.
Rennie was born to a mother of "unknown ethnic background" and a Métis father, whom he barely knew.
Child-welfare agents intercepted him as a six-month-old baby and a Caucasian foster family adopted him at the age of three.
In filings, Jones argues it’s unclear whether Indigenous people who are adopted qualify for Gladue consideration, and a Manitoba appeal court "sidestepped the question."
She noted an Ontario case that found a man adopted early in life still had a profound sense of displacement upon learning of his adoption as a teen, which led him to a gang lifestyle. Meanwhile, an Alberta case ruled an adoptee’s drug habits and violence didn’t seem linked to any emotional trauma.
Manitoba’s Court of Appeal rejected Rennie’s request for a sentence of two years less a day, arguing he hadn’t demonstrated isolation or distress. His father’s Métis heritage was mentioned only in passing.
In fact, Rennie blamed the road rage on stress from work, and the court heard he had a loving adoptive family provided him with ample opportunities.
But in filings, Jones argues it was the judge’s job to seek more information on Rennie.
The court responded that while it must consider "the serious intergenerational impact of colonialism," it can’t "use speculation to fill in blanks."
The case also calls Gladue reports into question, a tool used to formally assess an offender’s circumstances. Rennie’s lawyer waived his right to such a report.
In court filings, Jones argues in Winnipeg these reports usually take eight to 12 weeks to complete, compounding time spent incarcerated before sentencing.
She also claimed revealing an offenders’ multiple disadvantages has sometimes backfired, by convincing Manitoba judges they present a higher risk of reoffending and thus need harsher sentences.
Rennie’s team also noted in filings he was adopted in 1991 "at the tail end" of the Sixties Scoop, which saw governments take thousands of Indigenous children taken from their homes, often for dubious reasons, from the 1960s to ’80s.
The provincial Crown deemed the comparison "inappropriate."
But Jones said in an interview Rennie’s case was strengthened by Ottawa’s decision last week to compensate Sixties Scoop survivors, saying even those raised in loving adoptive homes had suffered a traumatizing cultural loss.
"I hope we understand this is a devastating legacy, and something that needs to continue to be looked at," she said.
Both sides finished submitting arguments Sept. 18 and it normally takes Supreme Court judges four to six weeks to decide whether they’ll hear the case, meaning that decision will likely come this month.
As for this week’s run-in, Rennie now faces a charge of driving while disqualified and four counts of failing to comply with a probation order. Jones says she will "absolutely" raise Gladue issues in that case, and Rennie seemed remorseful when her colleague visited him Wednesday.
"I think he understands why he’s there, and he feels bad about what happened," Jones said.
In the original sentencing, the court did note Rennie’s "intellectual deficits," which include learning disabilities and trouble with alcohol — although he was deemed to not be an alcoholic in a test and never has been tested for fetal-alcohol syndrome.
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"
Updated on Thursday, October 12, 2017 at 9:25 AM CDT: Crops photo