The number of dangerous offender cases appears to be on the rise in Nova Scotia.

The designation, which applies to some of the most violent and dangerous criminals, has only been used 17 times since the offence was created in 1978. Right now, there are as many as ten dangerous offender cases either just resolved or making their way through the Nova Scotia justice system.

"The courts have in the past used the expression the worst of the worst," said Senior Crown Attorney Paul Carver.

"It is, perhaps, an inartful expression but it tends to capture what it is that you're doing."

He said prosecutors ask many questions before moving ahead.

"Who are these people before the courts? How many times have they been there before? How many victims are there in their past? And do they rise to the level where you're saying you're so convinced, based on what they've done, that they are absolutely going to do it again and it has to be stopped."

Paul Carver is an expert on dangerous offenders. He gained some of that expertise prosecuting William Shrubsall, who was declared a dangerous offender in 2001. Shrubsall committed a series of violent attacks on women in the Halifax area. He arrived in Nova Scotia after serving time for killing his own mother with a baseball bat.

"Mr Shrubsall, anybody over 25 might know the name," Carver said. "But certainly when those offences were being committed in the late 90s, it was the subject of intense local, some national and some international media attention. So, yes, these people would be quite well-known, these names would be quite well-known to the public."

Some of the other dangerous offender cases either just resolved or now making their way through the Nova Scotia justice system include:

  • Michael Derrick Robicheau who was declared a dangerous offender this past July. He was convicted for a vicious attack on a woman working alone on the night shift at a Dartmouth gas station. That happened in the summer of 2007.  His case took six years to make it through the system.

  • Gordon Frank Nickerson is facing a dangerous offender hearing in provincial court in Kentville. He admitted to kidnapping a woman and her mother in Wedgeport, N.S. in February 2012. He sexually assaulted and assaulted them before driving with them towards Halifax. They were able to overpower him and escape in New Minas. In 2006, Nickerson was convicted of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a woman in British Columbia in a case with many similarities to his Nova Scotia crimes.

  • Lloyd Eugene Bailey is currently fighting a dangerous offender designation in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax. He's been convicted of a series of brutal sexual assaults against women. The crown wrapped up its case against Bailey in February. Bailey is now trying to build a defence, having fired four lawyers during the course of his hearing.

  • Robert Thomas Crowe is also facing a dangerous offender hearing in a Halifax courtroom. He was convicted for attacking a woman in Dartmouth in 2010.

Specific criteria

Cases must meet set criteria before prosecutors can consider dangerous offender applications.

The person must be convicted of a serious personal injury offence.

"So for example an aggravated assault with a bat or a knife, something of that nature, would meet that definition," Carver said.  "But a simple assault, even if it rose to the level of being serious, short of bodily harm but was still a serious assault would not, because you can't be sentenced to more than ten years for a simple assault - even though it involved violence."

"The other component to serious personal injury offence is a sexual offence. If you've been convicted of a sexual assault, sexual assault causing bodily harm, aggravated sexual assault, that is automatically defined as a serious personal injury offence."

Dangerous offender hearings are long and complicated and can stretch months, or even years after a person is convicted of a crime.

"Forensic psychiatric evidence is not brief," Carver said. "It can take days to put before the court. So even a short hearing can be as long as two weeks. If the facts on which the experts have relied are in dispute, then the crown is obliged to prove them."

According to statistics from Corrections Canada, only 579 people have been designated dangerous offenders in the period from 1978, when the legislation was created, to April, 2012, when the latest figures were calculated.  

But as Paul Carver points out, there were designations before the current legislation existed.

"If they're not making any progress," Carver said. "Then dangerous offenders could find themselves in prison for the rest of their lives. I think the last statistics that I'm aware of showed that there are even some offenders declared under very old legislation from the 1970s and 1960s are still in prison."

Of the 579 offenders in that 34 year period, 486 are still in the system. They make up only three per cent of the general prison population. Only two women have been designated dangerous offenders.