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R. v. Anthony-Cook

This case concerns when a sentencing judge may deviate from a joint sentencing submission agreed to by both the Crown and the defence.

The case arose out of a tragic death on February 9, 2013. Mr. Anthony-Cook had been at a drop-in centre operated by the Kettle Friendship Society, a Vancouver facility providing assistance to people suffering from mental health and addiction problems. The appellant has a long-standing mental health disorder, as well as substance abuse problems. He created a disturbance at the facility and was asked to leave. Outside the centre he encountered Mr. Gregory, a volunteer at the centre. An altercation ensued, and Mr. Anthony-Cook punched Mr. Gregory twice in the head or neck area. Mr. Gregory fell backwards and died of a skull fracture when his head hit the pavement.

Mr. Anthony-Cook pled guilty to manslaughter, and his defence counsel and Crown agreed that an additional 18 months incarceration, in addition to the time he had spent in pre-trial custody, was appropriate. However, the sentencing judge disagreed with the joint submission and increased the sentence, concluding that a sentence of three years of additional incarceration was appropriate.

The BCCLA argued that a sentencing judge should not lightly disregard a joint sentencing submission agreed to by Crown and defence counsel. Only when the joint submission would produce a clearly unreasonable or demonstrably unfit sentence should the submission be rejected. When the accused’s liberty is on the line, it is imperative that judges show deference to the Crown’s exercise of discretion in agreeing to an appropriate sentence.

Certainty in the plea bargaining context is also an important consideration. Plea negotiations and joint sentencing submissions are an integral part of Canada’s criminal justice system. Every year, thousands of criminal cases are resolved through guilty pleas, many of which result from joint sentencing recommendations reached after careful negotiations between Crown and defence counsel. These negotiations help resolve the vast majority of criminal cases in Canada. The BCCLA argued that a pattern of failure to accept joint submissions would slow the process immeasurably and undermine a system that depends upon the predictability of a sentence following joint submissions by counsel.

The BCCLA is represented in this case by Ryan Dalziel and Emily Lapper of Bull, Housser & Tupper LLP.

Our argument is available here.