In Depth

Victim scoffs at no jail time for assailant in violent attack, calls it 'white justice'

The Yellowknife prosecutor’s office will not be appealing a sentence handed down Friday in which a B.C. man avoided jail time after being convicted of assaulting a cab driver.

House arrest for violent assailant who hospitalized a Yellowknife taxi driver in 2016

The Crown will not appeal the house arrest of a man convicted of the violent assault of a taxi driver in Yellowknife's Kam Lake district. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The Yellowknife prosecutor's office will not be appealing a sentence handed down Friday in which a B.C. man avoided jail time after being convicted of assaulting a cab driver in the city.

Senior prosecutor Blair MacPherson said Monday the Crown will not appeal the sentence. It may be the first time a person has not received jail time for a serious assault on a taxi driver in the Northwest Territories.

Daniel Mattie, 39, was sentenced to 15 months of house arrest. In addition, Judge Garth Malakoe sentenced the Kamloops, B.C., man to 18 months of probation and ordered him to pay the driver he assaulted just over $2,000 in restitution.

After Malakoe delivered his sentence, the cab driver who was assaulted called it an example of "white justice."

The driver, who's black, said he wasn't surprised at all. A friend and former cab driver who was with him in the courtroom said the justice system is letting off too easy those who target city taxi drivers, making driving at night far more dangerous.

The Criminal Code recognizes cab drivers as particularly vulnerable and directs sentencing judges to take that into account when dealing with people who attack them. It's something N.W.T. judges have noted in case after case when sentencing people to jail time for robbing or assaulting drivers.

Both Judge Malakoe and prosecutor Angie Paquin cited some of those cases at Friday's sentencing hearing. Paquin called for Mattie to be sentenced to 15 months in jail plus two years probation.

Driver required medevac to Edmonton hospital

The attack was as mystifying as it was brutal.

The driver, then 52 years old, picked up an intoxicated Mattie at a downtown bar at 1:45 a.m. in October 2016. According to the statement of agreed facts that was part of a plea bargain, there was a dispute over the fare when they arrived at the Kam Lake address Mattie had given.

That was when the much larger Mattie attacked the driver. He called him a "f--king immigrant," punched him repeatedly, and pulled a large clump of hair from his head. Another driver who saw the victim after the attack said he was unrecognizable because his face was so swollen.

The driver was medevaced to Edmonton for treatment of fractures to his eye socket. He also suffered bruising on his face and cuts in both sides of his mouth that required stitches. He spent 12 days in the hospital there and underwent two operations. In a victim impact statement he said he still suffers from double vision in his right eye.

Why Mattie attacked the driver remains a mystery.

"We don't know the answer to that," Mattie's lawyer, Jay Bran, told the judge. "Mr. Mattie concedes he doesn't know what triggered this."

When Bran tried to characterize the attack as a fight by saying, "There was a dispute … there were punches thrown … the two men wrestled and fell to the ground," the judge interrupted.

"This was not a consent fight," said Malakoe. "This was the accused punching the cab driver."

Plea bargain opened door to no jail time

Mattie was originally charged with aggravated assault, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison, but he and the prosecutor reached a plea deal in October, the morning Mattie's preliminary inquiry was to start.

Instead of aggravated assault, Mattie pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm. The prosecutor also agreed to handle the case summarily, a route that is typically taken when the circumstances of a crime, or the harm that follows from it, are less serious.

As a result of the plea deal, the maximum sentence dropped to 18 months. It also allowed the judge to consider the conditional sentence order — house arrest — that Mattie received instead of jail time.

A conditional sentence would not have been available if the prosecutor had proceeded by indictment — the route taken for more serious crimes — on the assault causing bodily harm charge.

MacPherson defended the plea deal, but would not provide details about why the Crown agreed to lesser charges other than to say "there were triable issues."

Family 'would lose everything,' says wife

In arguing for no jail time, Bran pointed to a sentencing report prepared by a probation officer. It described Mattie's case as one of the few where the candidate would be a good fit for a conditional sentence.

The defence lawyer said Mattie had voluntarily taken counselling to try to figure out what caused him to react the way he did that night, but added that Mattie stopped the counselling because he couldn't afford it.

Bran said Mattie's wife said the family "would lose everything" if he was jailed, because he is the sole wage earner.

Bran told the judge a conditional sentence "would be seen by a reasonable and informed person … as being a very appropriate sentence under all of the circumstances."

Judge Malakoe noted that though Mattie has a previous conviction for assault causing bodily harm, it was 17 years ago. Mattie has also been convicted of drug possession.

In weighing his decision, the judge cited numerous letters of support for Mattie, including from his wife and employers, who said the attack was completely out of character.

Mattie was the last to speak before Malakoe retired to consider his sentence.

"I'd like to apologize to the victim for my behaviour that day," said Mattie, turning to look back at the driver.