A judge presiding over a disqualified driving trial in Steinbach provincial court last Thursday imposed the sentence requested by the Crown attorney, but not before admonishing the lawyer for losing sight of his duty to the public.
"I don’t have to like it but it’s not so far below the range that I won’t go along with it," Judge Larry Allen told Crown attorney Inderjit Singh while sentencing 47-year-old Christopher Robinson.
Robinson received $772 in fines and surcharges and a six-month driving prohibition for driving while disqualified and failing to appear in court.
Allen asked Singh why he didn’t request jail time for a man who ignored a driving ban imposed as part of an impaired driving conviction. Some Crown attorneys ask for 30 to 60 days of jail time in that situation, Allen said.
"Why is the prosecution department not consistent on that?"
Singh explained Robinson was an employed father of two who had never served time behind bars.
That response provoked Allen, who said he finds it "offensive" when prosecutors plead for leniency.
"It’s your job to be the public protector," Allen said. "Remember your function, OK?"
"This isn’t an egregious pattern of driving," Singh noted, recalling the facts of the disqualified driving incident, which occurred the morning of Nov. 10, 2018.
"He’s driving at all—that’s egregious," Allen replied.
Singh and defence lawyer Ethan Pollock both recommended a $600 fine for the driving charge and a $100 fine for missing an August 2019 court appearance. Singh also asked for a driving suspension, while Pollock said that was unnecessary, especially since Manitoba Public Insurance may impose their own.
Singh noted a driving suspension would have been automatically applied to the sentence in 2018, but the law had since changed to make it discretionary.
"The joint recommendation needs a (driving) suspension to be in the public interest," Allen said.
Robinson pleaded guilty to failing to appear in court following a brief trial on the disqualified driving charge that ended with a guilty verdict.
Robinson was forced to enter his pleas by phone from the courthouse parking lot. Pollock explained Robinson was unvaccinated against COVID-19 and had recently returned from Ontario without self-isolating.
Allen said it was "unfortunate" that Pollock had to interact with an unvaccinated client.
Crown witness Const. Dale Krentz of the Steinbach RCMP testified that he pulled over Robinson on Barkman Avenue.
Pollock said Robinson was headed to Shoppers Drug Mart to buy balloons for his child’s birthday party.
"He wasn’t gallivanting around Steinbach," Pollock said.
"He wasn’t approved to drive," Allen replied.
Krentz said Robinson produced his driver’s licence and admitted it was suspended. After arresting Robinson, Krentz drove him home to await his court date.
During cross-examination, Pollock tried to cast doubt on the identity of the driver by pointing to deficiencies in Krentz’s notes.
"Anyone could have produced that licence," Pollock said, noting wallets are stolen all the time.
The tactic didn’t sway Singh, who noted Pollock called no witnesses or evidence to back up his theory that the man behind the wheel wasn’t the man on trial.
"I don’t believe the suggestion that the man in question is not the Christopher Robinson who’s been charged."
The judge said lawyers sometimes place "unrealistic expectations" on police officers’ notes.
"Not only do we want them to patrol our streets, but we want them to be clerks," he mused.