The RCMP received a tip about an intoxicated driver which led to a high speed pursuit of Nasogaluak. When his car finally came to a stop, the police had to remove him forcibly. He resisted. One officer punched him twice in the head while wrestling him out of the car. Once Nasogaluak was out of the car, he continued to resist. The officer yelled at him to stop resisting and gave him a third hard punch in the head. Nasogaluak was pinned face down on the pavement with the officer straddling his back and another officer kneeling on his thigh. He refused to offer up his hands to be handcuffed, so a second officer punched him twice in the back, breaking his ribs, which ultimately led to a punctured lung.
At the police detachment following the arrest, Nasogaluak provided breath samples that placed him over the legal blood alcohol limit. The officers did not report the force they had used during the arrest and provided little to no information about the incident. Nasogaluak had no obvious signs of injury and did not expressly request medical assistance and no attempts were made to ensure that he received medical attention. He, however, twice told an officer that he was hurt. As well, he was observed crying, was heard to say that he could not breathe, and was observed leaning over and moaning. He was released the following morning and checked himself into a hospital. He was found to have suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung that required emergency surgery.
At trial, Nasogaluak entered a guilty plea to charges of impaired driving and flight from police. At sentencing, the trial judge held that the police had used excessive force in arresting the accused and breached his rights under s.7 of the Charter. As a remedy under s.24(1) of the Charter, he reduced the accused's sentence and ordered a 12-month conditional discharge on each count, served concurrently, with a one-year driving prohibition. The Court of Appeal held that a sentencing judge has no discretion to reduce a sentence below a statutorily mandated minimum sentence and ordered the minimum fine for a first offence mandated by s.255(1) of the Criminal Code.
- Is the imposition of a reduced sentence for the commission of a criminal offence an available and appropriate remedy for the breach of an offender's Charter rights?
LeBel, writing for the court, held the principle of proportionality is central to the sentencing process set out in the Criminal Code and requires that a sentence must speak out against the offence but may not exceed what is just and appropriate given the moral blameworthiness of the offender and the gravity of the offence. The determination of a fit sentence is, subject to some specific statutory rules, an individualized process that requires the judge to weigh the objectives of sentencing in a manner that best reflects the circumstances of the case. No one sentencing objective trumps the others and the relative importance of any mitigating or aggravating factors will push a sentence up or down the scale of appropriate sentences for similar offences. However, the sentencing judges' discretion to craft a sentence which is tailored to the nature of the offence and the circumstances of the offender is not without limits. His discretion is limited by case law and by statutes through the general sentencing principles and objectives enshrined in the Code. While a sentencing judge can order a sentence outside the general range set by case law as long as it is in accordance with the principles and objectives of sentencing, they cannot override a clear statement of legislative intent and reduce a sentence below a statutory mandated minimum, unless that minimum is found to be unconstitutional.
Although LeBel found that in some exceptional cases a sentence reduction outside statutory limits may be possible under s.24(1) of the Charter, this did not apply to the case at bar and the sentence of the Court of Appeal was upheld.