Minister of Justice apologizes to Jason Sark

·5 min read

Justice Minister Bloyce Thompson delivered an emotional apology Thursday to Jason Sark, the 42-year-old Mi’kmaq who endured what the PEI Court of Appeal determined to be a miscarriage of justice at the hands of PEI’s justice system.

Mr Sark sat within the Apology Circle, quietly listening as a number of his supporters and Minister Thompson spoke unscripted,each speaker holding the sacred eagle feather in hand.

“This has been a special moment for me and I want it to be a special moment for you. I truly, truly apologize for the miscarriage of justice,” the minister said.

“I give you a promise that I will do everything I can, in my power, for this not to happen to someone else. Because no one deserves this. With all my heart, whatever spirit has put us together in this circle, I truly apologize.”

This is believed to be the first time in Island history that a Minister of the Crown has apologized directly to an Indigenous resident for mistreatment by the justice system.

Mr Sark experienced extreme violence growing up on Lennox Island. While attending high school in West Prince, he was bullied, experienced racism and began experimenting with alcohol and drugs.

He has struggled with mental health and addiction and has a long history of criminal activity, including serving five years in a federal penitentiary for attempted murder. January 28, 2020, he appeared before Provincial Court Judge John Douglas to be sentenced for a single count of robbery .

The judge considered two aggravating factors: violence during the robbery and Mr Sark’s history of crime. The judge also considered Gladue principles.

These are legal sentencing principles intended to guide judges across Canada toward ordering shorter custodial sentences and favoring in-community, restorative justice processes for Indigenous people affected by trauma and racism.

Justice Douglas sentenced Mr Sark to nine months in custody and 15 months probation. MrSark served his time, reentered society, and over the next seven months began to flourish. He gained sobriety, was addressing his mental health issues, secured a room of his own and reconnected with his Indigenous culture.

During the smudging ceremony that opened Thursday’s ceremony, participants sang a traditional Mi’kmaq song, The Gathering, Mr Sark sang along from memory.

“He was starting to heal,” said Lynn Bradley a Native Council member who worked with Mr Sark concerning his mental health and addictions.

On Orange Shirt Day, September 30,2020, Mr Sark’s healing flipped on its head. Unbeknownst to him, three Justices of the PEI Court of Appeal had extended his conviction from nine months to two years.In a unanimous decision, Justices David H. Jenkins, Michele M. Murphy and John K.

Mitchell ruled that Judge Douglas“erred in that he failed to accord sufficient or proper weight to the principles of general and specific deterrence and denunciation in the sentence he imposed."

Mr Sark was arrested and spent three and a half months in jail before the Court of Appeal recognized a miscarriage of justice had occurred.

He was set free Friday January 14, 2021at 5:30pm, with no housing arranged or support of any kind. He was released into homelessness.

The miscarriage of justice, from the court’s perspective, occurred because Mr Sark was never told that his conviction had been subject to the appeal process.

No one within the justice system has ever apologized for this -until Minister Thompson arrived to the Native Council of PEI office on North River Road in Charlottetown to fulfill a promise made in the provincial legislature when Mr Sark’s story made provincial headlines as part of the Graphic’s Through the Cracks investigative series into PEI’s mental health and addiction system.

“I lost a lot,” Mr Sark told the Apology Circle. He spoke of losing personal momentum toward a better life, and the toll returning to jail took on him. He described a system where he was picked on and mistreated in the hope that he would react with anger.

Mr Sark expressed thanks to those who supported him after his return to jail and described his emotions on that day as ‘fight or flight’.

“I tried my best not t obe violent,” he said. “I had a lot of hate and rage in me.”Being sent back to prison was very difficult. “They’d pick at me and tease me. They just wanted me to go off so they could jump on my head.”

Mr Sark says he was denied access to native traditions and robbed of an opportunity to attend pipefitting school.

“Just when I thought life was getting good for me, it dragged me back down.”

He has since worked to regain the success he had achieved prior to the miscarriage occurring. Minister Thompson sat directly across from Mr Sark, intently listening. “I feel a greater power has led me here today,” the minister said.

And he delivered not one but two apologies. Supporters of Mr Sark had contacted the Justice Minister about his case but his department took no action.

“It’s not that I didn’t believe them. I put too much trust in the justice system. I want to apologize to all of you for that.”

Elder Junior Peter-Paul was appreciative of the minister’s apology and emphasized he is looking forward to working with him in the future. But he said the 3.5 months spent in jail,and the lost momentum toward healing,can never be replaced. He said Mr Sark is deserving of some form of compensation.

Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Graphic

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