Lawyer to file constitutional challenge

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A lawyer says he will file a constitutional challenge to the mandatory minimum sentence of four years in jail for a crime committed while using a firearm.

Cameron Bernarde is still to be sentenced after robbing the Rooster convenience store in November. NNSL file photo

Peter Harte said he is filing the challenge on behalf of his client, Cameron Bernarde. He pleaded guilty and was convicted in May of robbing the Rooster convenience store at gunpoint with his face covered in November. It is not believed the .22 calibre rifle was loaded at the time.

RCMP originally charged Bernarde, 21, with robbery with a firearm, pointing a firearm, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, possession of a weapon while prohibited, possession of a disguise with intent to commit an indictable offence, and possession of a weapon without a licence.

Harte said he expects the rest of the charges to be stayed. He is now awaiting a psychologist’s report on Bernarde, who has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Bernarde was last in Supreme Court of the NWT in Yellowknife earlier this month to set a date for a hearing on Harte’s charter application.

That won’t happen until mid-December, Harte said, adding that was the earliest date that Justice Louise Charbonneau and his witnesses would be available. It is possible Bernarde will be sentenced at that time.

“My position is that he should be sentenced to something much less than the mandatory minimum,” Harte said. “At what point do you say we are not going to sacrifice this guy on the altar of deterrence and denunciation, the main purposes for sentencing.”

Harte said Bernarde has had significant hardships in his life.

That combined with his FASD means that the mandatory minimum, enacted by the Conservative government in 2008 under then prime minister Stephen Harper, should not be imposed in this case, said Harte.

Court heard that Bernarde was offered a corn dog by the cashier at the time of the robbery. William Delorme told The Hub that Bernarde appeared unprepared to carry out the robbery so he offered him a snack to break the ice with the nervous perpetrator. He also said that Bernarde came back to the store following the robbery, unmasked, to share a cigarette with Delorme.

Two other cases are currently before the Supreme Court of the NWT where lawyers are also arguing against the mandatory minimum sentence for offences committed with a firearm. They argued in court that it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment which is unlawful under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Charbonneau also heard those applications and has reserved her decision.