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Dangerous offender appeal delayed

REGINA - Advocates who say Saskatchewan has cast too wide a net in applying dangerous offender designations will have to wait to see if the province's highest court will weigh in.

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal was to hear arguments Thursday on whether it should overturn the designation given to Andy Peekeekoot.

Instead, court heard Peekeekoot tried to submit more material on Monday that his lawyer, Bob Hrycan, needs time to investigate. Court heard that could lead to Hrycan withdrawing from the case or an appeal of the assault conviction that prompted the dangerous offender application in the first place.

Chief Justice Robert Richards called it "an unusual situation" and reluctantly adjourned the case for two weeks.

"We're aware of the number of times that counsel have been changed in the proceedings here," said Richards. "I simply repeat my concern, the court's concern, that these kinds of matters have to come to a head, have to come to a resolution. The interest of justice at large demands that."

In 2007, Peekeekoot was convicted on two counts of assault while threatening to use a weapon — he brandished a knife in a bar fight in Shell Lake in 2005. Peekeekoot was declared a dangerous offender in 2010.

He has more than 20 convictions, including for assaults on corrections workers, on his record.

The dangerous offender label means the 34-year-old can be kept behind bars indefinitely.

The sentencing judge in 2010 noted that some of Peekeekoot's violent behaviour happened when he was already in jail. Expert testimony called Peekeekoot a very high risk to reoffend and provincial court Judge Lloyd Deshaye wrote that "there is little or no realistic prospect that he will ever change."

Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, which has intervener status in the Appeal Court, said the case raises important issues about dangerous offenders, specifically when they are aboriginal.

"What (is) the responsibility of a judge ... when someone is unrepresented for an important part of their dangerous offender hearing, which essentially is our understanding of what happened here," Jonathan Rudin with Aboriginal Legal Services said outside the courthouse Thursday.

Peekeekoot had five different lawyers after the bar fight charges were laid, but fired several of them.

The Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism has said Peekeekoot was not able to present evidence or do a final summation at his dangerous offender hearing.

Rudin said there are also concerns as to whether the judge who sentenced Peekeekoot took notice of the broad systemic and background factors affecting aboriginal people.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled judges should take an aboriginal offender's background into account for sentencing.

There are 465 people serving time under the dangerous offender designation in Canada. Forty-five of those are in Saskatchewan, according to the latest Corrections and Conditional Release Statistical Overview.

The 2012 report also says aboriginal offenders account for 26.7 per cent of dangerous offenders.

Craig Benjamin with Amnesty International Canada said the designation should be for the worst criminals, such as murderers and sexual predators.

"The potential that somebody who has committed, yes, serious crimes, but crimes which would not result in a life sentence could ... end up being behind bars much, much longer than somebody convicted of the worst crime ... is something that deserves careful scrutiny," Benjamin said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

Rudin suggested recent amendments to the Criminal Code are going to make it easier to have people declared a dangerous offender.

"It's fairly clear that we can expect to see a continued rise in the dangerous offender population," he said.

"And the other thing that concerns us is that aboriginal people are significantly over-represented ... even more so than they're over-represented among the penitentiary population."

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