The Canadian Press
TORONTO–An Indigenous drunk driver who killed two people and left two others badly hurt has had his prison sentence reduced to seven years from 10 years despite Ontario’s top court rejecting his argument that he deserved more leniency due to his Aboriginal status.
In a split decision yesterday, the Ontario Court of Appeal said the sentencing judge had been too harsh on Scott Altiman, who pleaded guilty to charges including impaired driving causing death and criminal negligence.
“This court has not defined a formal range for such sentences in light of the infinite variety of circumstances in which the offence can be committed,” the Appeal Court said.
“(But) the 10-year sentence imposed on Mr. Altiman corresponds in length to sentences previously imposed on offenders who had a criminal or driving offence record, which Mr. Altiman did not have.”
Altiman, a 31-year-old married father of three, was drunk on an early September morning in 2015 when he drove through a red light at about 187 kilometres an hour and smashed into another vehicle in London, Ont., ripping off its back half.
Two passengers in the rear seat–Jerry Pitre, 46, and Cody Andrews, 23, were killed. The driver, Eric Allensen, 25, and his fiancee, Carie Mathews, 25, were severely injured.
Despite the severity of the crash, Altiman kept driving his 2011 Dodge Charger, slamming into a light standard and ripping out a road sign from the median.
Those impacts ripped off a front wheel and the car smashed into the front porches of two houses before coming to a stop.
The front end was crushed and the car caught fire. Firefighters had to cut Altiman from the car, where he had fallen asleep.
Court records indicate that Altiman, who had no criminal record and no record of bad driving, had turned to alcohol after finding out his wife of a dozen years had been cheating on him.
The crash occurred after he and his wife got into a heated argument and he stormed off and got behind the wheel.
In January 2018, Ontario Court Judge John Skowronski sentenced the member of the Walpole Island First Nation to 10 years behind bars, saying his Indigenous status had no bearing.
“The court would assume that, in all communities, drinking driving causing death is something that all parties would like to sanction,” Skowronski said.
Altiman appealed. He argued for a six-year term on the grounds that Skowronski had failed to properly apply the Gladue principles that govern sentencing for Indigenous people, and that the sentence was simply excessive under the circumstances.
Ultimately, the Appeal Court agreed the sentence was too stiff when compared with other drunk-driving cases, such as that of Marco Muzzo, 29, who killed four people and seriously injured two north of Toronto.
Muzzo was handed a 10-year term in 2016 and had several previous convictions for speeding.
“I do not see the circumstances of Mr. Altiman as an Aboriginal offender diminishing his moral culpability so as to require any further reduction in his custodial sentence,” Justice David Brown wrote for the Appeal Court majority.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Robert Sharpe said Altiman’s crime was connected with “many of the features of intergenerational trauma” suffered by Indigenous people.
“When he turned to alcohol as a means of coping with the threat of marital breakdown, he was conditioned to do so by a pattern of dysfunctional family life and alcohol abuse typically attributed to the historic and systemic disadvantages experience by Indigenous people in Canada,” Sharpe wrote.
Sharpe said he would have imposed a six-year prison sentence.