Pubdate: Sat, 20 May 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Katie May
Page: B1


Gives mom convicted of drug smuggling time to arrange child care ahead
of mandatory prison term

In a case that has raised questions about the effect of mandatory
minimum sentences, a Manitoba judge has taken pity on a woman he
convicted by agreeing to give her more freedom before he sends her to

In a likely unprecedented move, Justice Sheldon Lanchbery reserved his
decision and delayed the sentencing of 37-year-old Sandra Dignard by
about two months. That will allow the mother of four time to make
child-care arrangements before she is placed in custody. The judge
said he has no choice but to sentence Dignard to two years in prison
for drug trafficking, despite his belief she should not be locked up.

"I'm not without heart. I'm not a fan of mandatory minimums because I
believe that justices or judges have the ability to sort the wheat
from the chaff," the judge said as he prepared to impose the two-year
mandatory-minimum sentence in Court of Queen's Bench this week.
"There's no doubt in my mind that this is one (case) that no
right-thinking person could imagine that what I'm going to have to do
today is fit and proper, and I don't see any way I can work around

Lanchbery had convicted Dignard of smuggling painkillers into Stony
Mountain Institution in 2012 at the instruction of her boyfriend, who
was then a Hells Angels prospect.

She hid 100 morphine pills - worth about $10,000 - on her body when
she went for a conjugal visit. Dignard had earlier taken drugs into
the prison at the behest of her boyfriend, who had active gang ties
and a criminal record rife with drugs and weapons offences, court heard.

She was charged with drug trafficking within an institution in 2014
and has been free on bail since then. While the judge decided the case
didn't meet the legal test for committing a crime under duress, he
agreed Dignard had been manipulated and victimized.

"He was using the mother of his children, but that doesn't get you to
the point of being forgiven for the offence," Lanchbery told Dignard.

Still, the childhood abuse she suffered that bled into her adult
relationships made Dignard, in many ways, a victim, the judge

The former boyfriend who manipulated her testified about his
involvement at her trial, but he was never charged in relation to the

The case struck an emotional chord with each of the lawyers involved,
with Crown and defence agreeing Dignard would have been a good
candidate to serve her sentence under house arrest and avoid jail
time, if the law allowed.

Her crime carries a mandatory minimum two years in prison, even though
she had no criminal record before being charged and has not violated
any of her court orders since the charge was laid. During the past few
years, Dignard has sobered up, cut ties with her boyfriend and works
hard to be a good mother to her kids, two of whom have special needs,
court heard.

Dignard pleaded with the judge not to jail her, saying she knew she
did wrong and "will take any other punishment you give me."

"I'm sorry for what I did, letting a man manipulate me and put me and
my children in this horrible situation," she said during a brief but
tearful speech in court.

"My kids are who I live for, and I changed my life for them, took
alcohol and drugs out of my life. I'm begging you not to take me away
from my kids and put them in the system."

Lanchbery reserved his sentencing decision until July 26 at her
request, noting Dignard had "touched the hearts of three people in
this room who usually don't find themselves in this situation."

But he made clear he will impose the two-year sentence as mandated by
federal legislation.

"Yes, I have discretion, but there's a reason why those mandatory
minimums are in place. I don't agree with them, but I am required to
follow the law as well," he said.

Defence lawyer Steven Keesic, who saw Dignard's austere living
situation first-hand, said it was one of the most difficult cases he's
worked on.

He said he had initially planned to launch a Charter of Rights and
Freedoms challenge, arguing the two-year mandatory minimum sentence
amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in this case but didn't have
enough resources to do so.

"Justice was not served in this case," he told the Free Press.
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