So-called ‘stiff sentence’ for road-racing deaths ‘outrageous,’ says lawyer

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We’re always on the lookout for strange and stupid law and crime stories, but one recent Toronto Sun article caught our eye for all the wrong reasons.

Stiff prison sentence for deadly road racer,” proclaimed the normally tough-on-crime Sun, reacting to a case out of Montreal last week.

Repeat road racer Arif Afghani got five-and-a-half years in jail for his role in a 2011 crash that killed a father and daughter and left another woman permanently disabled.

Afghani tore through a red light at 102 km/h (in a 50 zone) and smashed into Daniel Clouston’s minivan, killing Clouston, 45, and his 10-year-old daughter Catherine. Afghani’s 17-year-old girlfriend was also left permanently disabled. He experienced minor injuries.

He was driving with no insurance and a suspended licence due to 18 prior tickets on his record — one for driving 202 km/h on a highway.

Afghani pleaded guilty to two charges of criminal negligence causing death, for which the Criminal Code prescribes a maximum life sentence. He also pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing bodily harm, which earns a maximum 10 years.

Read: Dangerous driving and criminal negligence

He got five and a half years. Total. That’s a “stiff sentence?”

Oh, well he also got a six-year driving ban.

“I’m just shocked; it’s pretty light,” says Toronto trial lawyer Michael Hassell. “I’m not a fan of long sentences, but with people dying in these circumstances, a tougher sentence is applicable.”

Afghani’s lawyers sought a two-year sentence, while the Crown pushed for six. Why so little?

Hassell says that Afghani’s guilty plea makes a “significant” impact on a sentence, as well as his expressing remorse at the sentencing hearing.

Regardless, the sentence is “outrageous,” says Hassell.

“If people are reporting on this saying five-and-half years is ‘stiff,’ does that really reflect society’s values? I mean that society would actually want to see a pretty substantial penalty in this situation.”

Hassell, however, adds that recent case law points to relatively light sentences, saying that five-and-a-half years “comes in pretty high.”

In 2000, Ontario’s Court of Appeal noted in R. v. Linden that “cases of this nature have attracted sentences of three to seven years depending upon the particular facts.”

Among those is a 1987 case R. v. Burcham, where the defendant got three years in jail for three counts of criminal negligence causing death and one causing bodily harm.

More recently was the strange case of Emma Czornobaj, the Quebec woman who caused two deaths in 2010 after stopping on a highway to help ducklings cross the road. Motorcyclist André Roy slammed into her car, killing Roy and his 16-year-old daughter.

Czornobaj got a 10-year-driving ban and 240 hours of community service and got 90 days in jail — to be served on weekends — yet is still appealing that sentence.

Meanwhile, bereft widow and mom Pauline Volikakis says that sentence isn’t tough enough.

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