On Wednesday, a Canadian judge handed down a lenient sentence that a deceased victim’s family says was “sickening” and “a slap on the wrist.” The judge’s forgiving sentence for the driver of a vehicle involved in a 2015 hit and run death of a bicyclist was a nod to the defense’s claim that, as a black man, he was concerned about how police would treat him.
The driver, Deinsberg St-Hilaire, was previously found not-guilty by the judge for the hit-and-run death of Andy Nevin who was struck and killed while riding his bike June 28, 2015. The judge said at that time that much of the evidence was circumstantial.
St-Hilaire said that he had fallen asleep while driving and then heard a loud bang, but when he saw nothing in his rearview mirror, he continued on, believing he had hit a mailbox.
Days later he realized he’d been involved in the fatal accident. He took steps to conceal his involvement. But eventually, when he was identified and charged, he pleaded guilty to obstructing justice.
Last week, for the obstruction of justice, the judge handed down a one-year conditional sentence of 100 hours of community service, a curfew from 10 pm to 6 am, and an order to hand over his passport.
According to the CBC, “In reading the sentence, Superior Court Justice Catherine Aitken noted that once St-Hilaire realized he’d been involved in the fatal collision days earlier, he began arranging covert repairs of his truck, covering the vehicle with a tarp, remove the license plates and having it driven under the cover of darkness to and from a body shop.
“St-Hilaire checked himself into a hotel after investigators came knocking at his door asking to see his white Ford pickup, which matched the description of the vehicle involved in the collision.”
Aitken said that she accepted St-Hilaire’s declared remorse as well as testimonials from his friends, coworkers, and his pastor who called him an honest, decent person who had acted out of character when he obstructed justice.
Aitken also concurred with the defense’s argument that, as a black man, St-Hilaire had reason to be concerned about how police would treat him. She said, “Mr. St-Hilaire’s actions in obstructing a peace officer were the result of his being overwhelmed with fear of how he would be treated in the justice system, a fear arising in part due to experiences earlier in life when he was subjected to bullying and racism in the school context, and due to experiences more recently where he did not feel fairly treated by police officers during traffic stops.
“In saying this, I’m not suggesting that those fears justify someone obstructing a peace officer,” she continued. “I’m simply accepting that fear of how he and his family would be treated played a role in Mr. St-Hilaire making the unwise decision not to cooperate with police in their investigation.”
A dozen relatives and friends of Nevin expressed their disappointment following the sentencing.
“He gets a slap on the wrist,” said Nadia Robinson, Nevin’s former partner and mother of his two sons. “They’re not setting a good example for future cases, that’s for sure. I don’t agree with the judge. He should have done at least some time. I knew we weren’t going to get a lot, but some time…. Andy’s not here to help support my kids.”
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