The Current

Black Canadians need pre-sentencing cultural assessments, says lawyer

There's a recent push to consider a defendant's cultural background before sentencing, with a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge coming out in support of these reports.
In February, Kale Leonard Gabriel was found guilty in the 2010 shooting death of Ryan Matthew White (pictured). Gabriel faces an automatic life sentence for the murder, and a Nova Scotia judge will determine when he is eligible to apply for parole. Before Gabriel 's sentencing, the judge will consider a cultural assessment, examining how circumstances related to his background led to Gabriel's criminal actions. (

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A Halifax judge is considering if the history of discrimination against African Canadians in Nova Scotia should be a mitigating factor in the sentencing of a black man convicted of murder. 

 Last February, 27-year-old Kale Leonard Gabriel was convicted of second-degree murder for the 2010 shooting of Ryan White. Last week, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge delayed Mr. Gabriel's sentencing to allow the defence time to prepare a cultural assessment, a report which looks at a defendant's racial and cultural heritage.

Gabriel faces an automatic life sentence for the murder, and a judge will determine when he is eligible to apply for parole. 

We are recognizing that the pre-sentence psychological reports routinely brought before the courts are actually incomplete because they miss large sections of the person's life experience that is tied up in culture and race.- Robert Wright, social worker

Advocates say Canadian courts should make wider use of cultural assessments, particularly for black Canadians, whose prison population has seen an 80 per cent increase the last 10 years. 

More than half of the black men in prison are under the age of thirty. There is some sort of connection here. When you have police targeting specific communities, than you get the expression of that with over-representation in our prison systems. When we have cultural assessments, this is something that would be considered.- Anthony Morgan, lawyer

The Current also discusses the potential value pre-sentencing cultural assessments can have in mitigating future crime. 

We need to have a prevention model that looks at the social circumstances of crime [ . . . ]If we were to have more social investment to address crime, I think we would be spending less money on policing.-Anthony Morgan, lawyer 

  • Robert Wright, a social worker who wrote a cultural assessment for an African Nova Scotian youth who had been convicted of attempted murder. 
  • Anthony Morgan, a lawyer at Falconers LLP and author of the United Nations' The Blackening Margins of Multiculturalism: The African Canadian Experience of Exclusion from the Economic, Social and Cultural Promise and Prosperity of Canada.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith, Sarah Grant and Pacinthe Mattar.