By Keith Lacey
An Oliver man who was convicted last week of smuggling handguns and ammunition across the Canada-U.S. border in Osoyoos will return to court on Dec. 21 for a sentencing hearing.
It took a 12-member jury less than two hours to convict Alex Louie on nine charges related to his attempt to smuggle two handguns and ammunition across the border around 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2017.
Louie, who successfully applied to the court to be referred to by his First Nation name Senk’lip, represented himself during the five-day trial that wrapped up recently at the Penticton courthouse.
The jury heard how two Canadian Border Services guards searched Senk’lip’s vehicle and found two handguns and two boxes of ammunition tied to the frame of his vehicle using wire.
Senk’lip, who unsuccessfully applied for bail and has been in custody since his arrest, was found guilty on all nine counts he faced.
Two of the weapons offences Senk’lip has now been convicted of carry a mandatory minimum of three years in a federal penitentiary.
Justice Arne Silverman, who according to numerous media reports had to repeatedly remove the jury to address Senk’lip’s lack of legal training, will be in charge of the sentencing on Dec. 21.
“At this point, I haven’t heard anything that would cause me to give you more than three years,” said Silverman in published reports after the jury reached its verdict.
Because of his First Nation heritage, it was reported that Senk’lip wanted the judge to consider sentencing principles related to the “Gladue decision,” a precedent-setting case that orders judges to give special consideration to First Nation offenders in Canada.
Silverman told the court that while Gladue factors won’t affect mandatory minimum sentences that apply to all Canadians, he would delay the sentencing hearing until Dec. 21 so Senk’lip can have proper time to prepare his submissions relating to sentencing.
Senk’lip has suggested during numerous court appearances over the past several months and during the trial that no court in Canada should have jurisdiction over him because indigenous Canadians have the right to freely cross the American border.
Senk’lip repeatedly argued that tradition and his special status as a self-described North American Indian permit him to cross the international boundary whenever, and with whatever, he likes.
“At the border, I declared who I was, and that is a fact of law. I am who I say I am, and these are my witnesses,” he said in a published report. “We are from here. We have been here since before Canada was here. We have been here before that border was here. And we’re still here.”
Senk’lip spent the majority of his time on the stand explaining his version of international law and how indigenous people have been abused by the Canadian government.
“I renounced Canadian citizenship because both my parents were residential school survivors,” he said. “I don’t want to be Canadian. I never was. It was forced.” In his charge to the jury, the veteran judge told the jurors to reject Senk’lip’s suggestions because they are not valid under Canadian law.
“We’ve all had the experience of crossing over the border and sometimes they ask a lot of questions and sometimes they don’t,” said Silverman. “But nowhere does that create a perpetual right for me to come and go without stopping for examination or search.”
The two Canadian Border Services Agency officers involved in Senk’lip’s arrest, testified they were warned he might be in possession of weapons and they searched his vehicle and found the two handguns attached to the undercarriage of his vehicle using wire.
Senk’lip also called his mother, Paque, as a defence witness. She told the court she worked in the U.S. in the 1970s and never had any problems crossing the border.
She testified how her experience with residential schools caused her to resent police and law enforcement in general and those attitudes may have inadvertently passed on to her son.
She testified that she believed that some of her son’s issues with law enforcement stem from her personal mistrust of police and law enforcement.