Many Canadians were shocked by the sentence handed down to Brenden Holubowich, the man who pleaded guilty to dangerous driving charges in connection with the Oct 2011 crash that killed four Grande Prairie teenagers and seriously injured another. The 23-year-old was sentenced to three years in jail. Now, former Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta offers some insight into the decision.

“It’s the kind of case that captured everybody’s attention here in Alberta,” explains the Honourable Allan Wachowich, who recently retired as Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta.

He, along with much of the country, followed the coverage of the crash and subsequent legal proceedings.

“It’s surprising because of the devastation in itself,” he says about the case. “Usually you don’t see, in a motor vehicle accident with two vehicles involved, where regrettably four people pass away right at the scene.”

He adds the ages of all the people involved also make the situation especially sad. Three of the boys killed in the crash, Matthew Deller, Walter Borden-Wilkins, and Vincent Stover were 16. The fourth, Tanner Hildebrand, was 15-years-old, as was Zachary Judd, the boy seriously injured in the collision.

On Wednesday, following nearly a dozen emotional victim impact statements, a guilty plea to four counts of dangerous driving causing death and one count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, and a joint sentencing recommendation by the Crown and the Defence, Justice William Tilleman handed down the sentence of three years in jail followed by a three year driving prohibition.

Family members of the victims were outraged with the sentence.

“Our justice system is just a joke,” said Leon Deller, father of Matthew. “He killed four young men and injured one and he goes to for three years.”

There was also quite a heated public response to the sentencing decision.

“The first question the public is going to ask is ‘why only three years?’,” says Wachowich, “and that’s understandable because it is a sentence where four people have lost their lives… it cripples one individual… and you say, ‘only three years?’”

“Sentencing is not a scale as such. We have guidelines,” he explains. “The system is set up on the basis that the submissions are made from the Crown and from the Defence Council to the presiding judge setting out exactly what they feel should be a proper and fit sentence, taking into consideration two elements in particular, that’s deterrence and that’s rehabilitation.”

“Obviously, because of what happened here, and the tragedy of it all, a lot of people are going to say ‘that’s way too light’,” Wachowich says. “They may be right, but this was studied by the two parties, taking into account the accused, where he stands, how remorseful he might be, the fact that he was never an offender before, the fact that’s there’s a good chance of rehabilitation.”

Wachowich says judges must seriously consider the sentencing recommendation when both parties – the Crown Prosecutor and Defence Lawyer – when both sides submit it jointly.

“So, when a submission is made - an agreement as to a joint sentence - a recommendation for a joint sentence… the judge can’t discount that recommendation. You take it seriously. You ought to enforce that joint recommendation unless there are substantial reasons to deter from it.”

In delivering his decision, Justice Tilleman said he was “constrained to accept the joint submission.”

Tilleman revealed he did consider a longer jail sentence, but decided to enforce the joint recommendation.

Wachowich says there are a few cases in which a judge will not accept the joint sentencing recommendation, and instead hand down a harsher sentence.

“The recommendation may be one thing and the court defers from it, but has to give substantial reasons that could be justified at the Court of Appeal for going beyond what the recommendation was in that joint submission.”

Holubowich was originally facing 11 charges, including impaired driving causing death and failure to remain at the scene. In Jan 2012, RCMP added five more charges; counts related to dangerous driving.

On Wednesday, Holubowich pleaded guilty to four counts of dangerous driving causing death and one count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Wachowich says it’s not uncommon to see guilty pleas for lesser charges while seeing the heavier charges dropped.

“That quite often happens, and it depends on the attitude of the police. Police quite often over-charge hoping that they may get a guilty plea to a lesser charge to save them a lot of time on investigations and the prosecution and everything else,” he explains.

“That’s not unusual that you’d see charges being dropped, that’s part of the deal,” he adds.

“I understand that they dropped the impaired portion of the charges with this individual and that may be because there was no way to prove the impairment.”

Wachowich explains the legal system in Alberta is supportive of deals being made between the two legal parties as long as justice is achieved as a result of the joint sentencing agreement reached by the two parties.

“In the eyes of a lot of people, life wouldn’t be enough,” he says. “A lot of people say ‘why are we sentencing him to prison at all?’ He’s never been an offender of any type; he’s made a real gross mistake.”

While he doesn’t disagree with the decision made in the Holubowich case, he admits he may not have made the same one if he was sitting on the bench.

“I can assure the people that this was a well thought out decision. These decisions are not made lightly. This affected the court, this affected all the people, this affected the parties involved.”

“We have to learn to be somewhat of a forgiving society,” Wachowich adds thoughtfully. “If we do that, we’re a more peaceful society.” However, he admits, “it’s hard to forgive, especially when it’s something so tragic as this.”

 Video interview

Source: Global Edmonton


Last updated on: 2013-03-09 | Link to this post