The dangerous offender designation and how it is being applied to Indigenous people continues to be a hot topic of discussion in the province.
The justice system has been handing out the designation since the late 1940’s and the process has undergone a number of changes with the focus remaining on keeping violent offenders behind bars until the courts are satisfied they are no longer a serious threat to society.
Krista Zerr, the director of prosecutions for high-risk offenders for Saskatchewan Justice, says offenders who have a history of repeat violent offences are considered for the dangerous offender designation.
These offences can include assault, assault with a weapon, sexual assault, robbery, firearms and other serious charges.
Multiple convictions on these charges, where offenders serve two years or more in detention, will bring them to the attention of Zerr’s office.
She says the offenses are assessed in light of the Criminal Code and whether there is a pattern of repeat behaviour.
Only 63 dangerous offender designations have been handed down by the courts in Saskatchewan over the past several decades but one advocate says the he believes the frequency of the designations is on the rise.
Bob Hughes of the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism says he is concerned in particular that the number of Aboriginal offenders being given dangerous offender designations is increasing.
Zerr says she is unaware as to whether an increase in the number of dangerous offender designations is on the rise but says it is likely.
“I don’t know, I didn’t look to see if there’s a pattern of more (designations)…I suspect there are to be honest,” she says.
Nevertheless, she stresses the Crown always carries the burden of satisfying the court beyond a reasonable doubt when applying for a dangerous offender designation.
Zerr adds the background of an Aboriginal offender is also taken into account.
“The courts, if you read the decisions are very cognizant of Gladue and always inform their work with the spirit and intent of Gladue.”
Detractors of the dangerous offender designation have sometimes referred to it as the “Three Strikes You’re Out” rule.
This refers to legislation brought in by the Harper government in 2008 which says if an offender has been convicted of two serious personal injury offences in the past, served two years or more in a federal prison and has been convicted of a third serious violent offence – they automatically meet the dangerous offender designation criteria.
Zerr insists Saskatchewan Justice does not tend to rely heavily on the three strikes rule and says she is aware of only one case in the province where a judge used it to impose a dangerous offender designation on an offender.