Wendy Gillis, The Star, June 10, 2016
Joel Reid witnessed Toronto’s first fatal shooting at a high school, the 2007 murder of Grade 9 student Jordan Manners in the halls of C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute.
In a separate shooting, he lost his best friend.
Reid had, in the words of Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Morgan, “a difficult childhood punctuated by traumatic events.” It took its toll.
The young man dropped out of school, developed a drug problem, started selling. He was not a big-time dealer, not even middle; he sold enough crack to sustain his own habit, and had been charged with a series of low-level possession and trafficking offences.
But instead of sending Reid to jail for six to 12 months–the sentence sought by the Crown for three counts of trafficking in crack cocaine and one count of possession of the proceeds of crime–Morgan recently handed down what’s known as a conditional sentence, more commonly known as house arrest.
In a decision now getting attention in Toronto’s legal community and beyond, Morgan explains that he considered both Reid’s personal circumstances and societal forces–including anti-black racism and the over-incarceration of people from the black community.
Citing stark statistics about the overrepresentation of members of the black community in prisons–the Office of the Correctional Investigator recently found the number of federally incarcerated black inmates has increased by 80 per cent over the last decade–Morgan said it was evident more attention should focused on the impact of the criminal justice system on black Canadians.
“There are a number of sociological causes for the overrepresentation of African Canadians in prisons and the justice system,” Morgan wrote, going on to quote a previous court decision stating anti-black discrimination “undoubtedly contributes to many of these underlying societal causes.”
Chris Rudnicki, Reid’s lawyer, said the sentence should send a message to lawyers that this is something that they can and should bring up in sentencing in the appropriate cases.
“Anti-black racism affects black people and their interaction with the criminal justice system at every stage, from when they’re arrested–and whether they are arrested–to the bail stage when they have to spend time in custody awaiting trial, to the sentencing phase when they are more likely to receive harsher sentences,” he said.
“All of that contributes to the over-incarceration of black people and so it is entirely appropriate to take into consideration.”