'Transformative' decision: How a judge's decision is turning legal heads
Marlene Leung, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, March 9, 2015 8:30AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 9, 2015 10:23AM EDT
An Ontario judge is being praised for delivering a ruling that showed immense consideration for the accused, using simple, easy-to-understand language.
Justice Shaun Nakatsuru delivered the ruling for 29-year-old Jesse Armitage on Feb. 11, after taking four months to write it.
Lawyer Steven Benmor said that the decision directly addressed Armitage, who is of aboriginal descent, in a style resembling a diary entry.
"In this case, the judge departed from the norm," Benmor told CTV's Canada AM, noting that Nakatsuru explained in court that he was writing the decision not for the legal community, but for the accused, who had only completed school up to Grade eight.
"So he drummed down the language of this decision….short sentences, simple language," Benmor said. "If you read it, it was like a 'Dear diary,' that this judge wrote for this 29-year-old gentleman."
In the decision, the judge noted Armitage's criminal history and troubled personal past, including family members who had attended residential schools and had struggled with alcohol abuse. The decision also recognized the injustices suffered by aboriginal Canadians.
Nakatsuru wrote: "One important thing I must consider is the past injustices done to the aboriginal peoples in this country. How that has affected the present; how that has affected Mr. Armitage."
Benmor noted that by delivering this unique ruling, the judge was re-affirming to the rest of the world that the legal system has an immense impact on people's lives.
"I think he jumped 10,000 feet up into the air and said 'Hey world, we actually touch a lot of people with our decisions, and I want to touch Jesse. I want to touch the entire community Jesse comes from. And I want to touch Ontarians, and show them that we in the legal services, the judicial system, we care about people,'" Benmor said.
Nakatsuru also wrote the following:
"If I could describe Mr. Armitage as a tree, his roots remain hidden beneath the ground. I can see what he is now. I can see the trunk. I can see the leaves. But much of what he is and what has brought him before me, I cannot see. They are still buried. But I am sure that some of those roots involve his aboriginal heritage and ancestry. They help define who he is. They have been a factor in his offending. They must be taken into account in his sentencing. It is also obvious that this tree is not healthy. The leaves droop and appear sickly. It does not flourish regardless of the attention paid upon it. The tree needs healing."
Benmor said Nakatsuru's ruling will have an impact on the legal community, because it highlights how powerful the legal system can be for all involved.
"It's so inspirational; it's transformative for the person and for the system," Benmor said. "The reality is, every person that interfaces with the judicial system is crying out for help. We have an opportunity to actually effect change, which happened here."