Toronto Star

Friday, May 28, 1999

4-1/2 years is limit for wife killer

Supreme Court ruling outrages women's groups

By Nahlah Ayed
Canadian Press

OTTAWA - A man who served less than five years in jail for stabbing his wife 47 times after she called him a lousy lover won't spend another day behind bars as a result of a Supreme Court decision that outraged women's groups.

The high court ruled unanimously yesterday that the judge who sentenced Bert Stone for manslaughter had the discretion to give him what amounted to a seven-year sentence because he was provoked into killing his wife.

Stone, 47, who didn't serve the entire term and is now on parole, testified that his wife of 10 months, Donna, provoked him with insults and threats of leaving him.

Among other things, according to Stone, she said he was sexually inadequate.

Using that defence, Stone, who was originally charged with murder, was convicted of manslaughter in 1995. The B.C. judge took the provocation into account when he handed down the sentence.

B.C. Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh, who appeared before the Supreme Court to appeal for a longer sentence, said yesterday he's concerned about the message the court has sent.

``I said (to the court) . . . if we didn't send a strong message and didn't increase the sentence, we would be saying to people: `Yeah, you know if you have a nagging spouse you can kill them, and you would be given the benefit of the provocation defence,' '' he told a news conference.

His concerns were echoed by women's groups across the country.

``This is a real problem,'' said Andrée Coute of the National Association of Women and the Law. ``What you have here is that women who express anger or dissatisfaction in their relationship . . . are in fact provoking (men).''

This isn't an isolated case, added Coute.

A study she conducted in 1991 showed that one in four Quebec men who killed their partners tried to use provocation as a defence.

That defence, when successful, allows a murder charge to be reduced to manslaughter. It should be revisited by the federal government, said Coute.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan couldn't be reached for comment, but her office said she has released a white paper looking for input on how to reform laws on the defence of provocation.

The court chose not to tinker with it, saying it was Parliament's decision to allow such defences. It said only that judges have discretion to apply a sentence they think is fair considering all circumstances of a crime.

The original sentence prompted more than 2,500 people to write letters of protest to the B.C. government.

2,500 protested original sentence

Betty Daft, a Kelowna, B.C., resident, was as outraged by yesterday's decision as she was by the original sentence.

``I think it's incredible that a person can get away with such a terrible injustice,'' she said.

In the ruling, the high court also tightened up laws that permit accused murderers to argue they committed their crime while in a dissociative state.

The court ruled in a split 5-4 judgment that the onus should be on an accused to provide compelling evidence - like eye-witness accounts - of going into a dissociative state.

Stone had said he went into a state of automatism when he committed his crime.

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