Mandatory minimum sentence not unconstitutional for Hay River armed robber, says judge
Cameron Bernarde, 23, sentenced to 4 years for robbery with a firearm
A Northwest Territories Supreme Court judge has upheld the mandatory minimum sentence in the case of a Hay River man who robbed a convenience store with a firearm.
Cameron Bernarde, 23, pleaded guilty to robbing The Rooster restaurant with a .22 calibre rifle in November 2016. Robbery with a firearm carries a mandatory minimum sentence of four-years imprisonment.
With 756 days credit for time already served, Bernarde has just under two years remaining on his four-year sentence. He was also given a three-year probation term and a 15-year firearms ban.
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Defence lawyer Peter Harte had filed a constitutional challenge against the mandatory minimum sentence, arguing it violated Bernarde's charter rights and amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment."
In a Yellowknife courtroom on Monday afternoon, Justice Louise Charbonneau, however, found there wasn't a big enough gap between the sentence she would have imposed and the mandatory minimum for it to be unconstitutional.
Harte said he was disappointed by the decision, given that Bernarde has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and, according to a psychologist's assessment, is approximately nine years old developmentally.
"The bottom line is that in terms of where Cameron Bernarde finds himself now, it's because of being let down again and again by the system, by adults in his life, by the correctional system because he's been left without the supports that he needs," Harte said.
Harte also highlighted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action to better address the needs of offenders with FASD, including exemptions from mandatory minimum sentences.
'It could have ended very badly': judge
Charbonneau noted the sentencing decision had been difficult to make.
She considered Bernarde's unique circumstances but also found it was a serious crime, noting Bernarde had pointed the firearm directly at the cashier. Bernarde also has a lengthy criminal record including a conviction in 2014 for sexual assault.
Charbonneau said she was worried as his crimes seem to be getting more serious.
"What you did was very serious and it could have ended very badly," she told Bernarde.
While Charbonneau acknowledged Bernarde has not done well on court conditions in the past, she said she hopes structure and supervision will help address his unique needs.
This is not the first time that Charbonneau has ruled on a constitutional challenge of mandatory minimum sentences for firearms charges.
Last month she struck down the minimum sentence in two separate cases from Inuvik and Fort Good Hope involving charges for recklessly firing a gun.
But Harte said those cases differ from Bernarde's as they dealt with hypothetical scenarios rather than just the facts of the particular case.