Christie Blatchford is doing an amazing job of describing the social problems in the four-cornered Indian town of Hobbema, Alberta—such an amazing job, indeed, that one is almost lulled into forgetting she is there because of a crime. It was not alcohol, poor governance, or residential schools that shot a five-year-old child in the head while he was sleeping last week. Some specific person, still at large, had to pull the trigger.
This, perhaps, is the true shame of Ethan Yellowbird’s death. We know there is not much point in rallying the majestic resources of an outraged mass media behind the quest for a killer—as we would surely do if a white child died under these circumstances. The person who shot Ethan is someone whose disregard for human life makes him arguably more dangerous than a mere power-hungry gangster; yet there can be no doubt that dozens of residents of Hobbema know his identity, or, at the very least, where they would start looking for him. They do not seem especially interested. The code of omertà holds; police and media inquiries are still met with chilly hostility. And, after all, Ethan might as well have been carried off by rogue eagles or the plague, for all the good that turning in the intoxicated ne’er-do-well who fired the fatal shot might possibly do.
We can say this with an unusually high degree of confidence, because another child, two-year-old Asia Saddleback, was wounded under exactly the same circumstances in Hobbema in 2008. And, as it happens, the person who shot her did get caught. Consider what, in your own ideal world, you might consider an appropriate penalty for such an action. Then consider what actually happened to Christopher Shane Crane, who shot Asia through a wall of her house after already committing an armed home-invasion robbery the same evening. The judge who sentenced Crane was keenly cognizant of his youth—the shooting was the culmination of an 18th-birthday party that got way, way out of hand—and of his “troubled past”. The troubles in question, needless to say, already included a certain number of assault priors. Who knows? Considering his gang involvement, he may even have grown up with bullets whizzing around him, poor creature.
Crane got six years’ imprisonment for the home invasion and six years for the aggravated assault of Asia Saddleback, to be served consecutively. His year awaiting trial counted double both ways, making the remaining sentence four years plus four years, with an extra year knocked off because the judge applied the “totality principle”. The “totality principle” in sentencing basically boils down to “If you’re adding jail time together from separate offences that somehow overlap in time or in nature, you should probably take your foot off the throttle a little bit.” It is more or less a technical name for the notion that excessiveness in the compounding of criminal penalties is inhumane.
And thus we arrive at a final quantum of punishment for the haphazard wounding of an infant, committed out of boredom; half of seven years. Or, rather, eight, if you are a stubborn literalist who wishes to count Crane’s year in remand as an actual astronomical-type year. (Who knows? Maybe you’re one of those “truth in sentencing” wackoes who just doesn’t grok justice-system math.) Our correctional system being the fount of hope and rehabilitative expertise that it is, Christopher Crane may already be out of prison. Indeed, one hopes that the RCMP has taken care to ascertain his whereabouts on the evening of July 11, if only as a matter of bookkeeping.