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News (Media Awareness Project) - CN ON: Maxwell Beech's 'Second Chance' Less Likely In Future
Title:CN ON: Maxwell Beech's 'Second Chance' Less Likely In Future
Published On:2012-01-20
Source:Toronto Star (CN ON)
Fetched On:2012-01-24 06:04:52

The real-life story of a Brampton man who was given a reprieve by a
judge and turned his life around could soon be fodder for fables.

And that's because Bill C10, expected to pass into law in Canada by
the end of March, will make second chances a thing of the past.
Instead, the bill's mandatory minimum sentences will make sure that
people like Maxwell Beech go to jail.

Beech was charged with gun and drug-related offences seven years ago,
but by the time he appeared for sentencing before Judge Hugh Atwood he
had found God.

On that fateful day, Beech remembers, "I really deserved to have had
the book thrown at me."

But he told the judge, "I want you to know I'm a changed man," and
explained how he wanted to be a good dad to his newborn son.

Instead of sentencing Beech to the Crown's recommended four years,
Judge Hugh Atwood allowed him to serve 90 days on weekends.

On Thursday, the Star's Jennifer Pagliaro told the story of how Beech
brought a Brampton courtroom to tears this week when he stopped in
unannounced to thank Atwood for giving him the chance to turn his life
around. The father of four now runs his own business installing blinds
and home security systems.

"The problem with mandatory minimums is exactly exemplified by
(Beech's) story," says Peter Rosenthal, a Toronto lawyer and adjunct
professor of law at the University of Toronto. "Traditionally,
sentencing is supposed to be based on the nature of the crime, the
details of the crime and the details of the offender. And in some
cases, it would be entirely inappropriate to send someone to jail for
a mandatory minimum period of time if that person has turned
themselves around."

Beech was overwhelmed Wednesday by requests to speak with media,
offenders and youth groups.

One request, received by the Star, was for Beech to speak at the
Second Chance Conference, run by Toronto's Young Advocates Youth
Organization. The conference aims to educate about and organize
national strategies for offenders re-entering society. The current
speaker's list includes Alvin Curling, former Speaker in the Ontario

Beech said at least one government official has encouraged him to
continue telling his story, in hopes it may influence public opinion
about mandatory minimum sentences. He said he hasn't made any decision
yet, but will be responding to requests as soon as possible.

"Look at this story. The story is unbelievable," says Beech's former
lawyer, Gary Batasar.

"This guy came back seven years later and thanked the judge. But what
would have happened to him if had not had this opportunity? His child
would have gone to CAS (Children's Aid Society). He would be in jail.
There are so many variables.

"This is a testament to the fact, not withstanding that crime is on
the decrease, the government we have in power right now is of the
opinion that minimum mandatory sentences are a policy they are going
to push forward," Batasar says.

Bill C10 contains several amendments to the Controlled Drugs and
Substances Act, including the introduction of mandatory minimum
sentences for serious drug offences, such as "dealing drugs for
organized crime purposes or using a weapon or violence when involved ...
in drug-related activities," according to information on the
Parliament of Canada website.

Growing more than five marijuana plants for the purposes of
trafficking will have a minimum jail term of six months. Selling
Schedule I drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamines will result in
mandatory sentences of a year.

The bill passed the second reading of the Senate in December and has
been referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and
Constitutional Affairs, which has yet to issue its report. It will
become law once it passes a third reading by the Senate and goes to
the Governor General for Royal Assent.

Mandatory minimums take "away the discretion of the judge. That's the
point of it," says Rosenthal. "There are some instances where it's not
appropriate. You can never design a law that's going to be appropriate
in all cases. That's why you need some discretion in the law."
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