By Lyonel Doherty
The court case of Alex Louie from Oliver has taken an interesting and debatable turn.
The local aboriginal, who once ran for chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band, is in a lot of trouble. He was convicted for trying to smuggle a pair of handguns into Canada, and now faces a minimum of three years in prison.
During his trial he tried to convince the judge that the court had no jurisdiction over him or his actions at the border. That’s a scary notion coming from a man who tried to hide two pistols under his vehicle last year at the Osoyoos border crossing. Heaven knows what he was going to use those guns for. If you want to target practice, join the local sportsmen’s association.
Louie (who calls himself Senk’lip) represented himself despite the judge’s repeated attempts to persuade him to get a lawyer. Louie is a smart man who previously studied law and knows a thing or two about how it relates to First Nations people. But the judge rightly decided that the court did indeed have jurisdiction over him.
The recent sentencing hearing took an interesting turn when it was adjourned so Louie could explore a constitutional challenge of the three-year minimum.
This is permitted due to his aboriginal heritage.
Ironically enough, it wasn’t Louie who raised the issue, it was the Crown prosecutor of all people. The prosecutor brought up case law where “Gladue” factors can result in lighter sentences for indigenous offenders due to their long-standing disadvantage in society. In effect, if Louie is successful in his challenge (if he decides to go that route), he could be facing less than three years in jail.
This is at least one case where the law does not treat everyone equally, which many people don’t agree with.
On the other hand, one must look at the historical factors that play a role in crimes committed by aboriginals, and the fact that First Nations are over-represented in Canadian prisons.
Low income, high unemployment, lack of opportunities, substance abuse and discrimination can lead aboriginal people to crime and incarceration.
But there is also the argument that these same problems also lead non-aboriginals to commit crimes.
We don’t know what Gladue factors might play a role in Louie’s case; those will come out if a challenge is launched.
But smuggling guns across the border is a very serious offence and should not be treated lightly by any court of law.