Const. Michael Theriault has failed in his appeal of his assault conviction in the beating of Black man Dafonte Miller. The assault left Miller permanently blinded in one eye.
The Ontario Court of Appeal handed down its decision Monday that upheld both the conviction and the nine-month jail sentence imposed on Theriault by Justice Joseph Di Luca.
In its unanimous decision, Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch that Justice Di Luca “correctly concluded” that the high-profile case “called for heightened denunciation and I endorse his approach.”
The decision tackled the issue of systemic racism in policing, writing, “while often overlooked out of a tendency to distance ourselves from the social ills plaguing our southern neighbour, Canada’s long history of anti-Black racism has manifested in the contemporary phenomena of over-policing and disproportionate incidents of violence during interactions between Black people and the police. Systemic and overt racism have long sustained unequal treatment before the law, leading to a crisis of confidence in the administration of justice in some communities. The current moment of reckoning with respect to systemic racism in Canada is long overdue.”
Trial Judge Di Luca made it clear that Dafonte Miller was no doubt engaged in theft from cars at the time of the assault and that he lied about it, making some of his testimony unreliable. But the judge used witness testimony, coupled with hard evidence, such as a four-foot pipe with Miller’s blood on it and the severe nature of Miller’s injuries to convict Theriault of assault.
The decision also addressed the issue of whether it was appropriate to sentence a first time offender to jail, writing, “as the trial judge put it, Michael’s conduct “further sowed the seeds of distrust between the Black community and the police.” Michael’s actions, as a white off-duty police officer who assaulted a retreating, injured Black youth, cannot, and should not, be divorced from this wider context. As noted above, Michael was a representative of the rule of law in this country, and his actions shattered a community’s trust in the very system that is supposed to protect them. The trial judge’s reasons for imposing a custodial sentence were sufficient in the context for which they were given. The trial judge explicitly considered less restrictive alternatives to imprisonment, but ultimately concluded that “nothing short of a jail sentence will suffice to adequately denounce the offence and to offer the requisite degree of deterrence.” The full decision can be found here.