Sage Morin and George Mounsef got up early Friday morning. They weren’t able to sleep. They were too anxious, waiting to hear the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the case of Richard Suter, the man who killed their son. So they drove to one of their favourite parks and obsessively refreshed their phones, waiting for the judgment to be posted.

It’s five years since Geo Mounsef died, crushed by a car that came plowing through the restaurant patio where the two-year-old was having dinner with his parents and baby brother.

It’s five years since Richard Suter, 62, hit the gas instead of the brake, and drove his car into that patio.

The horrific accident ripped two families apart. Things got even more awful, when Suter was kidnapped and viciously assaulted by vigilantes who cut off his thumb.

Friday morning, the Supreme Court finally brought the case to a close.

The court found the original trial judge made a mistake in sentencing Suter to just four months for the crime of refusing to provide to police a breath sample following a fatal accident.

Such a sentence, said the court, was “manifestly inadequate.”

But the court disagreed just as sharply with the decision of Alberta’s Court of Appeal to increase Suter’s sentence to 26 months.

An appropriate sentence, said the court, would have been 15 to 18 months. Since Suter, now 67, has already served 10-1/2 months, the court sentenced him to the time he’d already served.

“When I read it, I felt sick. I left like I was going to throw up. I felt like someone had just kicked me in the stomach,” a weary-looking Morin told me Friday.

Sage Morin holds a photo of son Geo Mounsef, 2

“For me, the worst part was when it said that a longer sentence would be an undue hardship and serve no useful purpose. That was ultimately the dagger, really. It fails to take into account the undue hardship our family has had to bear, now and for the rest of our lives.”

“We didn’t care about his sentence,” said Mounsef. “Locking a senior up in jail, I don’t think that helps anything. We just wanted people to know the truth.”

For Edmonton lawyer Dino Bottos, who represents Suter, the ruling felt very different.

“I’m quite relieved, to say the least,” he told me Friday. “We’re all pretty grateful over here that the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal judgment. I’m glad we could set the record straight for Mr. Suter.”

While this ruling is obviously most important for Morin, Mounsef, and Suter, it’s also makes Canadian legal history.

In 2008, Canada’s Criminal Code was amended to make penalties for failure to blow after a fatal accident just as serious as those for impaired driving causing death. Suter was the first person in Alberta sentenced only for the crime of failing to provide a sample after a fatal accident.

His appeal was the Supreme Court’s first chance to test that law. And in a majority decision, Justice Michael Moldaver did just that.

Moldaver found the trial judge put too much weight on his own conclusion that Suter wasn’t impaired. The real issue, he said, was Suter’s refusal to blow, not whether he was sober.

“By refusing to provide a breath sample, a person is depriving the police, the court, the public at large, and the family of the deceased of the most reliable evidence of impairment — or lack thereof,” said Moldaver. “Thus, the seriousness of the offence and the moral blameworthiness of the offender stem primarily from the refusal itself, and not from the offender’s level of impairment.”

If non-impairment were treated as a significant mitigating factor, said Moldaver, there could be a “deluge” of cases of people refusing to provide a breath sample, then arguing at the sentencing that they were not impaired.

Sage Morin is bandaged by her son Quentin Mounsef, 5, as Quentin pretends to be a doctor

For Geo’s family it’s not enough, not coupled with the reduction in Suter’s sentence. Morin called the ruling hypocritical. Mounsef called it cowardly. They’ll always believe Suter was impaired on the night he killed their son. Bottos will always insist he wasn’t. To the court, though, what mattered was Suter’s choice to defy the law by refusing to be breathalyzed. And that’s a vital precedent.

It’s a stark end to a horrific tragedy. Morin and Mounsef still struggle to put their lives back together. No longer a couple, they remain close as they co-parent their surviving son, Quentin, 5 1/2. Not long after Geo’s death, Morin’s mother, a Cree elder, had a vision that Quentin’s Cree name should be maskihkîs nâpêsis, or medicine boy. Quentin’s favourite toy is his first aid kit. He likes to play at wrapping his mother in bandages, trying to heal her.

But healing won’t be that easy. Not for Geo’s family. And not for Richard Suter.

“He feels terrible,” said Bottos. “He’s not just going to get over this. His punishment will endure to the end of his days.”

Source: Edmonton Journal


Last updated on: 2018-09-22 | Link to this post