Lasting impact of residential school system raised in sentencing of Abbotsford teenager's killer

·4 min read
Gabriel Klein was captured on surveillance video in November 2016, hours before stabbing two female students at a high school in Abbotsford. Klein faces a life sentence for second-degree murder. A judge will decide when he can apply for parole. (IHIT/Twitter - image credit)
Gabriel Klein was captured on surveillance video in November 2016, hours before stabbing two female students at a high school in Abbotsford. Klein faces a life sentence for second-degree murder. A judge will decide when he can apply for parole. (IHIT/Twitter - image credit)

A lawyer representing the man who murdered a 13-year-old girl in the hallway of her Abbotsford high school says his client is an example of the devastating lasting effects of Canada's residential school system.

Martin Peters told the B.C. Supreme Court judge tasked with sentencing Gabriel Klein Friday that the young Metis man's life has been shaped by the horrors of a national tragedy that has impacted every successive generation of his family.

"Mr. Klein's grandmother was a survivor of the residential school system. Mr. Klein's mother was a lifelong alcoholic. She died of cirrhosis of the liver. Mr. Klein, as we know, is a drug addict," Peters told Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes.

"Mr. Klein's family was fragmented by separation."

Victim impact statements

Holmes will deliver Klein's sentence on July 7 for the second-degree murder of Letisha Reimer and the aggravated assault of her friend, known as EI.

The second-degree murder charge carries a life sentence, but the judge has to decide how long Klein will have to wait until he can apply for parole.

Ulrich Reimer/Facebook
Ulrich Reimer/Facebook

The Crown has argued for 18 years before he is eligible for release — an amount which would indicate a high degree of moral culpability. The defence is arguing that Klein should be able to apply for parole in 12 years.

He will also serve a concurrent sentence for the attack on EI; the Crown wants seven years whereas Peters argued for five to six.

Peters wrapped up submissions that began on Wednesday with heart-wrenching victim impacts from parents, siblings and aunts and uncles of the two victims.

Eliane Reimer told Klein she hoped he would "never have another moment of peace again in your life."

On Friday, Holmes told Peters she wanted Klein to have a chance to reflect on the 46 victim impact statements before she sentences him.

Peters said Klein would be given the material to read, but might have difficulty making it through all of them.

Criminally responsible

Klein walked into Abbotsford Senior Secondary School on Nov. 1, 2016, armed with a knife he stole from a sporting goods store. Surveillance cameras also caught him slipping two bottles of rum into his backpack in the hours before the attack.

He stabbed EI four times before she got away. He stabbed Letisha Reimer 14 times before he was confronted by a teacher who heard the girl's screams.

Dennis Dossman/CBC
Dennis Dossman/CBC

During the court proceedings, Klein testified in a bid to avoid being held criminally responsible for the attacks because of a mental disorder — schizophrenia.

He claimed he was psychotic and thought the girls were monsters.

""A voice in my head was going 'kill, kill, kill' … It happened so quickly that I feel like the voice in my head was in control, and I wasn't," he testified.

Holmes found that Klein could appreciate that his acts were wrong and that there were other explanations for his behaviour beyond psychosis.

A prolonged, sustained attack

The sentencing process is a balancing of aggravating and mitigating factors, with Crown and defence both pointing to previous cases for comparisons.

The Crown said the closest case in nature was one involving the stabbing of a five-and-a-half-year-old girl as she lay sleeping in her mother's bed.

Peters argued that the two cases were different, in part because the assault on the sleeping child was prolonged and sustained, whereas Klein's frenzied attack was over in a flash.

But Crown prosecutor Rob Macgowan said that was missing the point.

"The idea of a prolonged or sustained attack is not a function of the number of minutes that go by," Macgowan said.

"The fact that the attack on the victim or the assault on the victim in some manner was committed over a brief, temporal period does not mean that the court cannot consider a sentence in the higher range."

'All murder is horrific'

Klein's family history was raised as part of what is known as a Gladue report, a document drawn up to examine the circumstances of Indigenous offenders as a means to combat their over-representation in Canada's justice system.

Peters said Klein was moved as a child to Alberta, where he was adopted by a non-Aboriginal father.

"He did not have a connection to his birth father. He was bullied at school for being Metis. He suffered racism at school and did not complete his education. He has a lifelong history of drug and alcohol abuse. No family support, " Peters said.

"He has a loss of culture and language [which] in my submission are all important at this stage in the history of this province in terms of reconciliation."

At one point, the defence lawyer acknowledged that the legal arguments would be tough for the victims to hear.

"All murder is horrific," Peters said, citing a decision from another judge.

"Mr. Klein's offending certainly fits that category. However, absent further aggravating features, the horrific and sudden nature of the offence does not involve a higher order [of moral culpability]."

Klein has been in custody since the day of the attack. He is expected to receive six and three-quarters years credit for the "dead time" he has spent behind bars, waiting for trial.

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