Judge doubles up suggested sentence in ‘drug-fuelled, rural crime spree’

Saskatchewan Provincial Court in Prince Albert. -- Herald File Photo

A woman who pleaded guilty to 17 offences in what a judge described as a  43-day-long “drug-fuelled, rural crime spree” has received more than twice as much jail time than the Crown and defence jointly suggested.

Provincial court Judge Steven Schiefner took the rare step on June 13 of rejecting a joint sentencing agreement, ruling that the Crown and defence’s submission would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

Erin Mindy Whitefish, 29, of Big River First Nation, had entered a guilty plea for a myriad of charges, including weapons offences, fleeing police, using a firearm while fleeing, break-and-enter, theft and assault. The crimes were all committed in April and May of last year.

The charges included a May 24 break-in in the RM of Debden where over $5,000 of property was stolen, including firefighting equipment and clothing, infrared cameras and portable emergency radios.

She also was involved in a rural break-in the next day where a farmer had firearms and fuel stolen while he was out in the field. The farmer gave chase, rear-ending Whitefish’s vehicle. He continued following her for about 8 km when after stopping in a field, someone from the suspect vehicle fired about a half dozen shots in his direction. Later that same day, police located the vehicle. It took off, leading officers on a chase through several communities, including Ahtahkakoop and Debden, at speeds reaching 195 km/h.

Schiefner called Whitefish’s actions on May 25 “shocking.”

Her other offences included stealing four vehicles and two license plates, fuel and property damage and an assault on another inmate at Pinegrove.

Lawyers had submitted a 15-month sentence for Schiefner’s consideration, followed by a period of probation. With credit for time served in remand, that sentence would have led to Whitefish being released that day.

Instead, Schiefner imposed a sentence of 970 days, less 479 days credit for time served.

That gives Whitefish an additional 16 months and 11 days to serve from April 11.

She was sentenced to time served for some of her thefts and the Debden break-and-enter.

 Schiefner wrote that judges are not to depart from joint recommendations, which often take into account concessions made by both parties, unless the sentence would bring the administration of justice into disrepute or if it otherwise goes against the public interest. In fact, he wrote, the court may accept submissions that appear “unduly lenient” when the Crown has obtained concessions as a result of a plea.

Despite the Crown’s acknowledgement that its evidence on some of the cases was weak, Schiefner found that the recommended sentence placed too much emphasis on mitigating factors and concessions obtained by the Crown. Especially, he wrote, because one of the charges, using a gun while fleeing from committing an indictable offence, comes with a minimum sentence of one year consecutive to any other charges.

 That would have meant that all of the other charges — including the thefts, the prison assault and the high-speed chase — would have required total sentences of three months or less served concurrently.

“In my opinion, the sentence as recommended would have caused the public to conclude that the justice system had failed,” Schiefner wrote.

“The sentences I would have been required to impose would have been wholly disproportionate to the gravity of the offences … would have failed to adequately denounce the danger and violence associated with Ms. Whitefish’s conduct, or the fact that she repeatedly and perniciously preyed on the vulnerabilities of rural residents, or the violence she directed at another inmate while on remand, or the shocking number of individuals she violated in 43 days. The resultant sentence … would not have promoted respect for the law or acknowledged the harm caused by her actions.”

Whitefish’s lawyer, Dale Blenner-Hassett, was not available for comment.