Manitoba

'You're getting a huge break': Man in widely shared Winnipeg arrest video sentenced to 30 days

A man whose arrest by Winnipeg police was caught on video, and drew accusations of excessive force, has been sentenced to 30 days in jail for the damage he caused to two iconic buildings and possession of a weapon.

Plea deal reached after wife's concern, Flinn Dorion's willingness to address addictions

Flinn Dorion received a 30-day sentence and will undergo mandatory addictions counselling for a year. (Submitted by Joanne Fontaine)

A man whose arrest by Winnipeg police was seen in a widely shared video, and drew accusations of excessive force, has been sentenced to 30 days in jail after damaging two iconic buildings.

Flinn Dorion, 33, was arrested June 11 after throwing a brick through a window on the Centennial Concert Hall and destroying a granite slab at the Manitoba Museum. Police arrested him after receiving reports he had a gun, which turned out to be a replica.

Videos from a witness and surveillance cameras show an officer kicking Dorion during the arrest before using a Taser — moves the police said were necessary to prevent him from reaching for a knife.

The force used against Dorion, who is Cree, during the arrest were condemned by many, including the grand chiefs of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and the Assembly of Manitoba First Nations.

Crown attorney Omar Siddiqui and defence lawyer James Wood reached a plea deal in which most of the charges related to the incident were either stayed or dropped.

Siddiqui agreed to give Dorion a chance because of his wife's concerns — shared with the Crown by victim services — about Dorion's addictions and his willingness to address them. 

"The Crown attorney didn't want to say that he's giving you a break — I'll say it," Judge Dale Harvey told Dorion at the June 30 sentencing. "With this recommendation, you're getting a huge break."

In their complaint, police specifically asked that mandatory addictions counselling be part of Dorion's probation.

Dorion pleaded guilty to causing a disturbance, mischief over $5,000 and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, as well as pleading guilty to assaulting his wife, Joanne Fontaine, on May 19.

The property damage from the June 11 incident was estimated to be $17,000.

"You can't pay for that. Somebody else has to.… And there's no point to it. It's so frustrating," said Harvey.

Upbringing in foster care

Dorion was high on meth, intoxicated and carrying around an airsoft rifle that he'd found in the garbage that June 11 morning, Siddiqui told court. A knife and metal bar were also found on him during the arrest. 

Afterwards, Joanne Fontaine, who lived with Dorion at the Main Street Project shelter prior to his arrest, shared more of his story with CBC.

"I am happy... I'm going to do this treatment with him and be his role model and do it together as husband and wife and be sober together," said Joanne Fontaine, who has been Dorion's voice while he's been incarcerated, in a statement to CBC News. 

"Never judge a book by it's cover. He's my soulmate. The worst came, now we'll do the better together."

Dorion is originally from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, but spent most of his upbringing in foster care in Winnipeg and Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation, on the western shore of Swan Lake in Manitoba.

He'd graduated from Grade 12 in Winnipeg, but never met his biological parents. His mother, Elizabeth Dorion, went missing in 1999 and is believed to have been murdered. The couple's three children are now cared for by Fontaine's family.

In the days leading up to his arrest, Fontaine said Dorion was not himself. His meth use was worsening, which she believes was triggered by the recent death of his biological sister. He was talking to himself, and was angry and destructive.

Video of Dorion's arrest emerged mere days after thousands gathered at the Manitoba Legislature demanding justice for Black people, and sweeping changes to policing and the administration of justice — one of many such protests around the world following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

"We don't want to unnecessarily escalate tensions in the community," Const. Jay Murray said the day after Dorion's arrest, while publicly sharing surveillance video of the arrest and an explanation for the use of force. 

"It's no secret that there's been a lot of scrutiny on police in North America."

'No way to live'

Fontaine said she would love Dorion and stand by him no matter what, but wanted to see him get help, not jail time. 

"It's pretty incredible Ms. Fontaine still wants to be with you," Judge Harvey said to Dorion, who chose not to speak at the sentencing.

"That's no way to treat somebody you care about. And yet she's still concerned about you, and knows you need help for your addictions."

Harvey acknowledged the role colonialism has played in Dorion's life, but said not having custody of his own children now is "no way to live."

The judge urged Dorion to see this as the "tipping point" of his life, to stop using meth, be kind to Fontaine and "treat her properly." Harvey said he agreed to the lawyers' recommendations out of respect for them.

Dorion will serve two probationary year-long sentences, one of which is supervised, and will undergo mandatory addictions counselling. He is prohibited from coming within 10 metres of the Centennial Concert Hall or the Manitoba Museum. He is allowed to see his wife with her consent, and never when intoxicated. 

"And if you keep destroying people's property to that extent, some judge is going to say it's more about public safety than it is about rehabilitation," Harvey warned.

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