Pubdate: Thu, 27 Jul 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Katie May
Page: A4


Judge 'troubled' but forced to lock up single mother of four children

PLANS to appeal a mandatory minimum sentence as unconstitutional are
on the horizon for a Winnipeg mother who is now behind bars despite
the judge's declaration that justice would not be served by locking
her up.

Sandra Dignard, 37, was taken into custody Wednesday to start serving
her two-year federal prison sentence for smuggling drugs into Stony
Mountain prison five years ago. She tearfully said goodbye to her
young son and pleaded with other relatives to take good care of all
four of her children before sheriff's officers led her away, out of
view of her family.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sheldon Lanchbery, who previously spoke
out against mandatory minimum sentences and the use of a prison term
in this case, reluctantly imposed the two year mandatory minimum
sentence after delaying his decision for about two months to allow the
single mother to make child-care arrangements before she went to prison.

"I remain troubled by what I am mandated to do," Lanchbery said.

"I'm also mindful of the fact that when I was sworn in as a judge of
this court, I promised to uphold the law. I promised to follow the
Constitution. I'm well aware of those circumstances and I understand
that I'm bound by those. I'm also troubled by the fact that in some
cases, when this court is to be seeking justice, that in this
particular case justice is not being done. However, under the
circumstances, it's the law of the land," he said.

Suggesting federal corrections officials could release Dignard early,
the judge ordered a transcript of his comments be sent to the
correctional institution as soon as possible "so that those in the
system can understand that there are four children, two of them with
special needs, that are separated from their mother. I leave it to
those authorities to determine when release may occur," Lanchbery said.

The Correctional Service of Canada could not provide details Wednesday
in response to a Free Press inquiry on the possibility of early release.

Sandra's sister and Eric Wishnowski, the defence lawyer who took over
the case, both said an appeal is the planned next step in this case.
In some other cases in Canada, mandatory minimum sentences have been
declared unconstitutional and set aside. An appeal in this case has
not yet been filed.

"He certainly was reluctant in having to pass the sentence,"
Wishnowski said following Lanchbery's decision. "I think it's
something that needs to be challenged."

During an emotional sentencing hearing for Dignard in May, Crown and
defence lawyers agreed that if the law allowed, Dignard would be a
good candidate to serve her sentence on house arrest rather than
behind bars. But a conviction for drug trafficking within a
correctional institution carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two
years in prison.

Dignard had no prior criminal record and was on bail since her arrest
without any violations. She was convicted after a trial before Justice
Lanchbery last year, during which she admitted to smuggling in 100
morphine pills under threat from her boyfriend, who was then a Hells
Angels prospect serving time at Stony Mountain.

A package containing the drugs was delivered to her home with
instructions to deliver them during a visit with her boyfriend. She
also admitted to smuggling drugs to him on previous occasions and
court heard she didn't face repercussions in the past when she
refused. Deciding Dignard knew she could have turned over the drugs to
officials without her boyfriend knowing she had done so, the judge
ultimately ruled Dignard's case didn't meet the legal test for
committing a crime under duress, and he found her guilty. While he
denounced the crime, he emphasized Wednesday that, in Canada's
criminal-justice system, offenders should only be separated from
society when necessary.

"I'm not sure that society is well served by taking four children from
their mother in the sense their mother is being taken from them, and
the risk of being in (foster) care is far too great," Lanchbery said.

"I'm not too sure if putting her children at risk for her own actions
is sufficient."

Dignard's case tugged at heart strings in the courtroom because of the
long history of emotional, physical and sexual abuse she's suffered at
the hands of the men in her life, starting from childhood. She was
homeless at age 14 and experienced violence in all of her adult
relationships, some with gang members, according to a presentence
report filed in court.

"The family history of multi-generational sexual abuse and the
(significant) victimization of Ms. Dignard may have contributed to the
negative and abusive relationships Ms. Dignard found herself in," the
probation officer wrote, recommending she receive counselling. Her
past abuse may have made her more prone to being manipulated by
intimate partners, the report concluded.

Dignard raised her four children - ages 19, 14, eight and two - as a
single mother and has been sober for eight years after beating an
addiction to painkillers. She wants to keep her kids out of foster
care, her sister Samantha Dignard said, saying the family will look
after them. In the meantime, she said her sister hopes for early release.

"Her main concern is her kids," Samantha told the Free

"My sister got caught in a bad situation... She wasn't thinking. She
was just thinking about the repercussions from that side, not only
(from her ex-boyfriend) but the gang as well," she said.
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