A young Penticton Indian Band man will spend his 15-month sentence in the community for his part in a swarm attack on a peer at the 2015 sunset party in the Upper Carmi area.
Aaron Jack-Kroeger’s conditional sentence order from Judge Gregory Koturbash came with a stern warning that if he breaches the conditions of the sentence he will be facing a steep penalty, and serve the remainder of his sentence in jail.
“I want to make sure you understand, you say it on the record, because when it comes time, if it does come, you’re going to have to park any crocodile tears because I’m not going to be sympathetic to any breaches,” Koturbash said.
Jack-Kroeger was convicted in mid-December of assault causing bodily harm after a graduating high school student was left with a serious concussion and about $5,000 of dental work when he was swarmed by peers at an unsanctioned graduation party.
The sentencing was a challenging one for Koturbash, who had to balance the severity of the attack with Jack-Kroeger’s youth and, more his Indigenous heritage — the latter of which is a requirement for judges to consider.
And that was particularly challenging, as defence waived Jack-Kroeger’s right to a formal Gladue report, a pre-sentence report specifically looking at Indigenous factors, and that had reflected in the Crown’s sentencing submission, with an initial call for 12 months in jail.
“When it comes to incarceration, I’m bound by the law to consider it, and it’s a very important consideration, especially in a case like this,” Koturbash told Crown lawyer Kurt Froehlich.
“Alcohol played a key role. Him being a younger First Nations person, I don’t think I can just sort of ignore that, and say ‘well, denunciation and deterrence are paramount, therefore we just ignore his heritage.’”
Froehlich acknowledged the importance of considering Jack-Kroeger’s First Nations heritage, but said he was faced with a lack of knowledge of the young man’s family and history.
Defence lawyer James Pennington, however, said while he waived the formal Gladue report, he was able to spend some time with Jack-Kroeger’s mother, and spoke in detail of the family’s long history, which included alcoholism, violence at home and experience with the residential school system.
“Basically what it comes down to is this: Is that the young Aaron represents the fallout from the residential school system, and specifically with respect to his family, those effects go back at least two, possibly three generations in his family,” Pennington said.
Pennington said both of Jack-Kroeger’s maternal grandparents, as well as his maternal great-grandparents were all residential school survivors, and both of Jack-Kroeger’s grandparents “struggled with alcohol, both died as a result of motor vehicle accidents.”
“Alcoholism has been a dominant factor throughout the family history,” Pennington said, noting Jack-Kroeger’s mother made a proud point of being sober, herself, while his father was out of the picture by the time Jack-Kroeger was in pre-school.
Pennington said the 20-year-old was hoping to finish high school and had gained employment, including seasonal employment with the Okanagan Nation Alliance salmon hatchery.
“As well, like a lot of young men, he participates in the group hunt,” Pennington said.
“His mother tells me Aaron gave all the appearances of following the path that has led to nothing but turmoil for many members of his extended family and to other members of the Penticton Indian Band. He and several of his peers were heavily into alcohol. His drinking has more than tapered off; it’s nothing like it used to be.”
Pennington said much of that may have been due to the death of some peers and family members.
After Pennington’s submissions, Froehlich conceded the conditions would be reason for considering a conditional sentence, which Koturbash made a point to commend.
“Given the passage of time, and you have had the opportunity to mature, and with strict controls you will not be a danger to the community,” Koturbash said when sentencing Jack-Kroeger. “I think to send Mr. Jack-Kroeger to jail at this juncture would likely be a regression rather than a progression.”
Though Jack-Kroeger was ordered not to make contact with the victim unless the victim were interested in engaging in a restorative justice program, with the permission of the conditional sentence supervisor.