Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia judge explains why cultural assessments matter in sentencing

Judge Pamela Williams, chief judge of the Nova Scotia provincial court, explains how rarely used 'cultural assessments' can play a role in sentencing, and why they should be considered.

Kale Leonard Gabriel's background to be considered in sentencing for 2nd-degree murder

Pamela Williams is the chief judge of Nova Scotia provincial court. (CBC)

On Tuesday, a Nova Scotia judge delayed sentencing in the case of a 27-year-old man convicted of second-degree murder pending the completion of a rarely used type of document assessing how racial and heritage factors contributed to the crime. 

In February, Kale Leonard Gabriel was found guilty in the 2010 shooting death of Ryan White in the Mulgrave Park public housing project.

Gabriel's defence team is preparing a type of document known as a cultural assessment, which will examine how circumstances related to Gabriel's African Nova Scotian background led to his criminal actions.

Uncommon in Nova Scotia

The use of cultural assessments are extremely rare in Nova Scotia courts.

Judge Pamela Williams, the chief judge of the Nova Scotia provincial court, says while she has never actually seen a cultural assessment before, they are philosophically akin to Gladue reports. Those are done on aboriginal offenders

In February, Kale Leonard Gabriel was found guilty in the 2010 shooting death of Ryan White (above). (
and look into their background circumstances which led to their offending behaviour.

"It isn't so much taking race into account per se, it's taking into consideration how race has led to systematic discrimination, marginalization and impoverishment of this group of individuals," Williams said.

While Williams can't speak on specific cases, she spoke to CBC's Maritime Noon about the role these types of reports can play in sentencing hearings.

Better understanding

"When we understand how [offenders] have been disadvantaged in the education system, in the employment field, in other areas of society, then that will help us to better understand what has led them to these types of behaviours and choices that they've made," she said.

According to the federal Office of the Correctional Investigator, black offenders represent 9.5 per cent of the federal prison population, but only 2.9 per cent of the entire Canadian population.

Williams says the overrepresentation of aboriginals and African Nova Scotians in the provincial jails shows the courts need to examine options, such as cultural assessment reports, when they are available to help identify root causes of the crime.

"If a sentence can address the causes and not just the effects of crime, then perhaps we're able to reduce the likelihood of the individual coming into conflict with the law again, if sufficient types of programming are put in place for those individuals," she said.

With files from Maritime Noon