Tory MP predicts knife crime bill for next spring
Mandatory sentence would be set for stabbing deaths: Gord Brown
Bruce Ward
The Ottawa Citizen

Two brutal stabbings that shook Ottawa last week have resonated with Conservative MP Gord Brown, who is now retooling a bill that would impose mandatory minimum sentences for knife crimes causing death.

"To many, these are just statistics, but each and every time something like this happens, it's a family that gets impacted," said Mr. Brown, who represents the Brockville and area riding of Leeds-Grenville. "My heart goes out to these families who had to suffer because of this type of violence."

Michael Oatway was stabbed late last Thursday while riding an OC Transpo bus near Baseline Road and Centrepointe Drive. He died shortly after being taken by paramedics to the Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus.

A 17-year-old has been charged with first-degree murder, robbery and possession of a restricted weapon.

On Sept. 18, Karen Parker, 44, was found in Britannia Park with her throat slashed. She survived the attack. John Dennis, her former boyfriend, has been charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and forcible confinement.

Mr. Brown drafted a private member's bill during the last Parliament that would set a minimum five-year sentence for manslaughter in which a knife was the weapon. That bill died when Parliament was dissolved in November 2005.

With the Conservatives now in power, Mr. Brown said the bill will be reintroduced as government legislation.

He said the bill will likely be presented in the House of Commons for debate next spring.

"We're retooling the bill now, working with the Justice Department," he added.

The bill would also reduce parole eligibility for those convicted of knife crimes.

Between 1999 and 2003 in Canada, 787 people were killed in knife attacks, compared with 823 killed by firearms.

Frequently in stabbing deaths, the accused pleads guilty to manslaughter in exchange for the Crown dropping a first-degree or second-degree murder charge. Unlike the murder charges, there is no minimum sentence for manslaughter.

In July, a 22-year-old Winnipeg woman was sentenced to four years in prison for the throat-slashing death of an 18-year-old honours student.

The killing began with an argument over bathroom use and ended with an unintentional single stab wound to the throat, the court heard.

"In many cases, these end up being manslaughter convictions," said Mr. Brown. "This bill is designed to create mandatory prison sentences for manslaughter; other parts deal with conditional sentences and statutory release."

The bill is a direct response to the stabbing death of Andrew Moffitt, a 23-year Brockville native who was killed when he interceded in an Ottawa bar fight nearly eight years ago. Mr. Moffitt, a top student at the University of Ottawa, was posthumously awarded the Governor General's Award for Bravery.

Henry Danninger, now 33, was convicted of manslaughter in Mr. Moffitt's death. He was released from custody last month and returned to the Brockville area. Mr. Danninger was denied parole about a year ago, but the parole board had no choice but to release him because he had served two-thirds of his sentence.

Paulette Moffitt, Andrew's mother, said the family will continue to push for a new law that would see mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving knives.

"We feel so strongly because Andy's killer is out walking the streets now," Ms. Moffitt said yesterday. "If there would have been a minimum sentence in manslaughter cases, he'd still be in jail."

She said the family prepared themselves five times to face Mr. Danninger at scheduled parole hearings.

"We'd get ready and practise our victim impact statements, and then he'd cancel. He was just playing a game with our family. It was very stressful. If there were minimum sentences, he'd have to put in all his time, and then ask for parole."

Mrs. Moffitt said her family has not encountered Mr. Danninger since his release and has "tried not to think about" him being back in Brockville.

"But I think about it every day because we didn't receive justice. A life is worth a lot more than that."

© Copyright  2006 The Ottawa Citizen

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