Advocates say dangerous offender designation used too widely in Saskatchewan

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REGINA - Advocates for a man labelled a dangerous offender say Saskatchewan has cast too wide a net when it comes to applying the designation and they want the province's appeal court to weigh in.

Andy Peekeekoot has more than 20 convictions on his record, including aggravated assault and for assaults on corrections workers.

In 2007, Peekeekoot was convicted on two counts of assault while threatening to use a weapon — he brandished a knife in a bar fight in Shell Lake in 2005. The Crown then applied for a dangerous offender hearing and Peekeekoot got the designation in 2010.

The label means Peekeekoot, 34, can be kept behind bars indefinitely.

But Craig Benjamin with Amnesty International Canada says the designation is meant for the worst criminals, such as murders and sexual predators.

"The potential that somebody who has committed, yes, serious crimes, but crimes which would not result in a life sentence could, because of the dangerous offender designation, end up being behind bars much, much longer than somebody convicted of the worst crime, in and of itself is something that deserves careful scrutiny," Benjamin said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

"(It) suggests that at least for some individuals, the kinds of safeguards, the kinds of precautions, the very careful and prudent use of this really harshly punitive sentence, those kinds of safeguards are not being adequately applied."

Amnesty International notes that there are 465 people serving time under the dangerous offender designation in Canada. Forty-five of those are in Saskatchewan, according to the latest Corrections and Conditional Release Statistical Overview.

The Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism says it has been trying to get the province's justice minister to study the Peekeekoot case for years.

The coalition says it's concerned because Peekeekoot didn't have a lawyer for the dangerous offender hearing.

"He was not able to present evidence. He was not able to do a final summation there," coalition spokesman Bob Hughes said Wednesday.

"In fact, I was in court in Regina when the dangerous offender designation was handed down and he didn't have a lawyer present there neither and I was absolutely stunned. I continue to be stunned today that that can happen in a so-called civilized country."

Peekeekoot had five different lawyers after the bar fight charges were laid, but fired several of them.

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal will hear arguments Thursday on whether it should overturn Peekeekoot's dangerous offender designation.

Documents filed with the appeal court claim there's no indication that the Regina provincial court judge who sentenced Peekeekoot took notice of the broad systemic and background factors affecting aboriginal people.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled judges should take an aboriginal offender's background into account for sentencing.

In his written decision in 2010, provincial court Judge Lloyd Deshaye said some of Peekeekoot's violent behaviour happened when he was already in jail.

Deshaye also noted expert testimony that said Peekeekoot was a very high risk to reoffend violently in the future.

"It seems apparent, after his long history (even for a relatively young man) of failure to restrain himself or seek meaningful change, that there is little or no realistic prospect that he will ever change," Deshaye wrote.

Amnesty International and the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism want to see the appeal court set aside the dangerous offender designation and order that a new hearing take place.

"The dangerous offender designation should be and was meant to be there for the most extreme of cases. This case doesn't fit that," said Hughes.

Organizations: Amnesty International, Saskatchewan Coalition, Saskatchewan Court Supreme Court of Canada

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, REGINA, Ottawa Canada

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