A teen who violently assaulted a stranger will no longer spend time behind bars, a judge ruled after considering a long list of trauma the boy has suffered.
The youth, who cannot be named under the provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was convicted of assault in the death of Neil Catcheway.
The 40-year-old Catcheway was accidentally attacked on October 16, 2019 on Winnipeg Main Street near Sutherland Avenue by the then 14-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl.
“This was a pointless, unprovoked duel with a stranger,” wrote Provincial Court Judge Murray Thompson in his October 22 ruling on the boy.
The girl was the “clear instigator,” wrote the judge, but the boy followed him and participated in the attack.
18 second attack
According to the decision, the attack on Catcheway began with the girl throwing him to the ground and kicking him. The boy then kicked him in the face.
To escape, Catcheway tried to crawl up a railing. The girl nudged Catcheway hard and dropped him a considerable distance on Main Street, hit her head, and was knocked unconscious. He was then run over by a car.
Catcheway died of severe blunt violent injuries from the fall, the judge wrote. The entire attack lasted only 18 seconds.
“Neil Catcheway’s sudden and violent death has had a profound and profound effect on family, friends and loved ones,” Thompson wrote.
The boy was arrested the next day and confessed that he was sick about what had happened. He had no criminal record.
He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of bodily harm in return for the Crown’s willingness not to seek an adult sentence.
The girl found guilty of manslaughter has not yet been convicted, the judge found.
Police blocked a section of the main road heading north after Catcheway was found on the road around midnight. (Travis Golby / CBC)
After eight months in a juvenile detention center awaiting his sentence, the boy will no longer be serving time, Thompson decided.
Instead, the boy will be on probation for two years, 25 hours of community service, provide DNA samples, and meet various conditions – including lack of or communication with the girl who helped carry out the attack.
“The fact that a defenseless man was accidentally attacked and killed on Main Street in Winnipeg is undoubtedly tragic and pointless,” Thompson wrote.
“The sentence handed down by the court today is and cannot be a measure of his life. It is important to understand that the accused was not convicted of the death of Mr. Catcheway.”
Residential schools, MMIWG, abuse, care
The judge outlined a long list of Gladue considerations in his decision. Gladue is a Supreme Court ruling that requires judges to consider the impact of things like residential schools, the Sixties Scoop or the child welfare system on indigenous criminals.
The judge found that the boy has a “long history of dormitory involvement, suffering from sexual and physical abuse, addiction, child welfare and justice”.
The boy’s grandfather and mother both attended residential schools where they were abused.
His mother’s side “suffered a great tragedy and loss” with three women among the many missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. When the boy’s mother lost her sister, she began to drink heavily, the judge wrote. Since then she has changed her life and goes to school to be a social worker.
Attorney Stacey Soldier says this case is an example of the effects of generations of trauma tribal peoples are still experiencing. (John K Photography)
The boy also experienced violence at home while growing up.
“He was physically abused by his biological father, who later persecuted the family for a long period after his mother remarried,” the judge wrote.
The boy was fostered twice for a total of two years and was separated from his siblings both times.
The boy had to switch schools frequently and dealt with behavior breakouts and literacy issues, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The maximum time a young person can serve for assault is two years, the judge said.
“I must consider all available alternatives to custody that are reasonable in the circumstances, particularly bearing in mind the defendant’s Aboriginal heritage,” Thompson wrote.
Legacy of generations of trauma
A First Nations attorney with experience defending young offenders said the case was an “incredibly sad” example of the legacy of centuries of ill-treatment indigenous peoples have endured.
“The decision really only scratches the surface regarding the type of intergenerational trauma this child likely lived with in their family,” said Stacey Soldier, an attorney from Anishinaabe and a member of the Swan Lake First Nation.
“By the time someone looked into the criminal justice system, there were a number of systemic flaws up until that point,” she said.
This breakdown begins in families, communities and systems like child welfare, she said.
“Really, [the courts] are just a type of patch that tries to fix a problem that has been around for a while. “
Family and friends hold a vigil for Neilson Catcheway in December 2019. (Trevor Lyons / CBC)
Soldat said Gladue deliberations are one way courts try to balance punishment with the systemic trauma that would cause an indigenous person to commit a crime.
“We’re not talking about a race-based discount. That’s not what it is,” said Soldier, who teaches classes on indigenous peoples and criminal law at the University of Manitoba.
“Canada has embarked on the process of systematically combating and destroying indigenous families. This process continues to this day, as you can see,” she said.
“There are laws, there are processes, and it is really deliberately separating children and families from their traditions and from their communities. Many of the processes have ended, but the aftermath is still very evident,” she said.
Soldat said at the end of the day there are “no winners” to come out of a case like this, no matter what a judge’s decisions are.
“This young person still has to live with the fact that this person died. They will certainly not forget that.”