Sask. dangerous offender rate highest in country: lawyer

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Judge dismisses dangerous offender application for Leslie Black

As a high-profile dangerous offender hearing runs in Prince Albert, Sask., a criminal defence lawyer says Saskatchewan's justice system uses the designation more than any other province.

A hearing is currently underway for Leslie Black, who pleaded guilty to attempted murder after a savage attack on a homeless woman in Prince Albert in 2014. Marlene Bird was set on fire and both of her legs had to be amputated.

Veteran defence lawyer Barry Nychuk told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition that in 2012, one out of every 12 dangerous offenders in Canada lived in Saskatchewan. That meant the province's rate was three times the national average, and it hasn't changed much since.

"Obviously, Crown prosecutors have decided to use that tool in their toolbox more often than other provinces," he said. "Certainly in the cases I'm familiar with, they have been successful."

The dangerous offender status is meant to target the worst offenders in the country. In 2008, the federal Conservative party introduced a "three-strikes" policy, where anyone convicted of three serious violent and/or sexual crimes is presumed dangerous.

"The primary goal in sentencing [for dangerous offenders] is no longer a consideration for reformation or rehabilitation," he said. "It becomes simply removing that individual from society."

Nychuk said it's very difficult to challenge a successful dangerous offender designation. In 2014, only five per cent of those offenders were released, and many of those were palliative care cases.

Some critics have argued the status is a way for the justice system to warehouse people with mental illness. Nychuk said that was true of both the dangerous offender cases he has represented over the years.

"One was an FASD [fetal alcohol spectrum disorder] situation, one was a mental illness issue," he said. "Crystal meth, addiction and abuse resulting in significant cognitive disabilities in his brain."

Nychuk said he doesn't see the law changing anytime soon.

"I don't see a lot of push," he said. "In America, there is certainly some pushback because prisons became overpopulated."

Leslie Black's dangerous offender hearing is scheduled to run for the next two weeks.

Correction : An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Marlene Bird as Leslie Bird in a photo caption. The caption has since been updated.(Mar 14, 2017 5:19 PM)