Alleged bus shelter attacker arrested in 2016 for meth-fuelled, cross-border police chase

The man accused of badly beating a 17-year-old student in a downtown Winnipeg bus shelter this week had substance abuse problems and a difficult childhood, according to parole documents.

Parole Board acknowledged Joshua Zachary Alan Snakeskin, 26, had a difficult childhood

Joshua Zachary Snakeskin, 27, pleaded guilty to robbery and assault in connection with the beating of a 17-year-old foreign student in a downtown Winnipeg bus shelter. (Josh Snakeskin/Facebook)

The man accused of badly beating a 17-year-old student in a downtown Winnipeg bus shelter this week had substance abuse problems and a difficult childhood, according to parole documents.

Joshua Zachary Alan Snakeskin, 26, was arrested on Wednesday evening in connection with an attack against a 17-year-old university student in a downtown Winnipeg bus shelter on Tuesday. The attack left the victim so badly beaten he couldn't move from the concrete.

Police say Snakeskin then stole two vehicles, one in Winnipeg and one near Gimli, Man., about 85 kilometres north.

Snakeskin had been serving federal prison time prior to the attack at Stony Mountain Institution just north of Winnipeg and was released from custody just four days earlier, on Jan. 19.

When he was released, the Parole Board noted he didn't have any supports in his community or any confirmed employment.

He was wait-listed for the Aboriginal Community Maintenance Program.

According to a Parole Board of Canada decision dated Jan. 13, Snakeskin has struggled with "significant substance abuse" in the past. The document says he was coming off a five-day methamphetamine "binge" when he committed the offences for which he had been serving time at Stony Mountain.

In July 2016, Snakeskin was convicted of a handful of charges that mirror some of his charges from this week, including weapons offences, theft and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle. Those charges were laid by The Pas RCMP.

The board wrote Snakeskin had been on the run from police at the time, who wanted to question him about a robbery. He didn't want to go back to jail so he left town and went on the run, "based on [his] impulsive nature," accumulating several other charges along the way.

Joshua Snakeskin is seen in a video still from a surveillance camera in downtown Winnipeg. (Winnipeg Police Service)

In his effort to evade police, he started a "prolonged chase across provincial boundaries," drove at high speeds and nearly struck a police officer. He was found with a semi-automatic rifle in the vehicle with a round in the chamber.

"According to your most recent program report, your typical crime process centres on significant substance abuse and your 'don't care' attitude. You commit crime to help fund your addictions, primarily to methamphetamine," the document states.

The judge in that case found Snakeskin's actions created "an extraordinarily dangerous situation."

Accused experienced systemic problems: parole board

The document said Snakeskin was stealing to support himself and his drug use and was living out of a truck and couch-surfing. His violent history was considered limited, but he had three outstanding violence charges at the time.

The judge in his case described his childhood as "not a happy story," the document notes.

According to the parole board, Snakeskin experienced systemic problems throughout his life in terms of what the Board calls his "Aboriginal social history."

He has never met his biological father and was placed in a group home for six to seven months when he was 12, the document notes. It adds he struggled in school, started using substances at an early age and attributes his difficulty in school to his childhood diagnosis with oppositional defiant disorder.

The document cites a family suicide as a trigger for his continued substance use and continued involvement in criminal activity after falling in with "the wrong crowd" when his biological father died when he was 13.

His grandmother was a residential school survivor and Snakeskin didn't get much exposure to his Indigenous culture, the document says.

A man wanted in connection with a brutal assault in a bus shelter was found driving a stolen truck, which police brought to a stop Wednesday evening near Portage Avenue and Albany Street. (Submitted by Danton Unger)

"The Board can see how your experience growing up contributed to your substance use and hanging around with negative associates, which have then played a role in your offending behaviour," the parole board wrote.

An assessment program rated Snakeskin's accountability and engagement in his correctional program as high, but he also admitted to using THC while serving his time — although he said he had the opportunity to do harder drugs and abstained.

'Worst-case scenario'

Snakeskin's release from prison came through a statutory release, which University of Manitoba criminologist Frank Cormier says is "virtually automatic" after an offender serves two-thirds of a sentence unless it can be shown that the person would be a serious threat to the community.

"It's not surprising to me that he was released because there really does have to be compelling reason to not," he explained. "Having said that obviously I think it raises concerns as to whether or not there are sufficient supports in the community for people like this when they do come out of a federal institution."

The Government of Canada's website says statutory release "aims to provide offenders structure and support before their sentence expires to improve the chances of their successful reintegration into the community."

Offenders on statutory release can be returned to custody if they violate the conditions of their release, which include reporting to a parole officer, remaining within geographic boundaries, obeying the law and keeping the peace, according to the government website.

Cormier said it's rare for offenders who are on statutory release to go on to commit a violent crime during the last third of their sentence in the community. 

"The rates of people on statutory release who commit a subsequent violent offence are down somewhere around one to two per cent — which is obviously of little comfort to someone who was victimized for a crime like that," he said.

"This really is the worst-case scenario, it can lead to the most stringent arguments against the idea of releasing people from an institution prior the very end of their sentence [but] the data really all show there are very good reasons for this conditional release over a period of time, rather than just letting people out sort of cold turkey."

Suspect who attacked foreign student leads police on chase

4 years ago
Duration 2:34
Joshua Snakeskin had just been released from a federal prison on weapons charges when he assaulted a student and went on a crime spree that included a carjacking, assault on the driver, as well as the theft of a pickup truck.

With files from Jill Coubrough