Sentencing hearing delayed for Alberta RCMP constable guilty of assault

RCMP Const. Licio Soares, 35, was supposed to be sentenced Monday for assaulting a prisoner at the Slave Lake detachment in September 2017, but the man he assaulted was unable to attend court so the hearing was adjourned.

Victim unable to watch remotely due to misunderstanding and COVID-19

Const. Licio Soares will be sentenced July 15 for assaulting a prisoner. (The Lakeside Leader)

An RCMP officer's sentencing hearing in High Prairie Alta. has been delayed because of miscommunication and the pandemic.

Const. Licio Soares, 35, was supposed to be sentenced Monday for a September 2017 on-duty assault, but the hearing was adjourned because the victim was unable to attend. 

Soares was found guilty of assault on May 27. In reaching his decision, Peace River provincial court Judge Robert Marceau relied on video recorded at the Slave Lake detachment. 

Vernon Laboucan had been arrested for mischief. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which investigated the incident, later said Laboucan was "grossly intoxicated" at the time. 

Security video of RCMP Constable Licio Soares assaulting Vernon Laboucan at the Slave Lake detachment in September 2017. Soares was found guilty of assault on May 27 this year. 0:39

The video shows Laboucan taking off his shirt and throwing it at Soares, who catches it in his hand, then pulls it over Laboucan's head and forces him to the ground.

Soares tackles Laboucan and punches him repeatedly in the head, knees him in the back and pushes his head into the floor.

The video shows the attack lasts for at least a minute.

Laboucan wanted to take part Monday in the sentencing hearing. He had written a victim impact statement. 

But he is currently in custody after he was charged last month with second-degree murder in an unrelated case. 

Crown prosecutor Jason Neustaeter told the judge he had filed an order with the Edmonton Remand Centre to allow Laboucan to observe the sentencing hearing through closed-circuit television. 

"The remand centre misread the order and thought he should be present in person," Neustaeter said. "He was transferred to Peace River Correctional Centre and has to be in quarantine for 14 days." 

The judge noted that ordinarily, that would not prevent an inmate from joining the hearing by teleconference.

But Marceau said his clerk was told Laboucan is symptomatic and is being housed in a special isolation unit, so staff wouldn't provide him with a telephone.

"It's important for the victim of a crime to be present so they can see justice being done," Neustaeter said. 

The constable's lawyer wanted the sentencing hearing to go ahead without Laboucan observing. 

"So I have competing interests," the judge noted. "Officer Soares wants to get on with this. Mr. Laboucan has a significant interest in this matter and cannot attend today. I am left in the unenviable position of having to adjourn the matter." 

The sentencing hearing has been put off until July 15. 

Mountie returned to active duty 

Monday's postponed sentencing is just the latest delay to what has already been a long, drawn-out investigation. 

After the video of the assault by the RCMP officer was disclosed to the court in December 2017, all charges against Laboucan were withdrawn and ASIRT was directed to investigate.

After an 18-month ASIRT investigation, Soares was charged with assault in June 2019. 

An RCMP spokesperson told CBC News that Soares was suspended with pay in December 2017. He stayed off the job until a code of conduct hearing was held in April 2019.

"Corrective action was taken against Const. Soares as a result of the internal discipline process," Cpl. Laurel Scott wrote in an email. 

She did not specify what action was taken against the officer, or explain why Soares remained on duty after he was charged criminally. 

Soares now works on a federal intelligence team with RCMP in Calgary.

"This unit is not front-line policing," Scott said. "This was a lateral transfer."

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston