Ansari's prison sentence is a major failing of our legal system
//Mac Fairbairn, Opinions Editor

In 2006, Sasan Ansari stabbed Josh Goos 33 times at Hollyburn Country Club, a crime for which he was given a five-year sentence of manslaughter. His term began in 2008, and now, after only two years, he has been released on day parole. He is expected to return to UBC Law School, and has also been offered a job at a law firm.

In Canada, where the debate between punitive and rehabilitative sentencing is a fierce one, Ansari managed to avoid both. It’s not surprising that Ansari is out of jail – in Canada, a prisoner sentenced to a term greater than six-months can apply for parole after serving one third of their sentence.

Ansari was originally charged with second-degree murder, which in Canada is defined as murder that is unplanned and non-deliberate, but in which there was intent to kill. Manslaughter, for which Ansari was eventually convicted, is culpable homicide that is not murder. A defendant would be charged with manslaughter if the killing were committed in the heat of “passion,” resulting from intense provocation.

Although murky, most of the basic facts of this particular case are known. Ansari owed Goos, the victim, $90,000, and had owed this money to him for some time. Goos asked Ansari to meet at Hollyburn Country Club, during which time Goos was stabbed, chased by Ansari and eventually left for dead. Some of the attack was caught on Hollyburn’s security cameras.
The muddy details of the case make it a hard one to deliberate on. However, in examining their motives, neither man should have had any reason to want to kill the other. If Goos had killed Ansari, he would be the prime suspect in the murder, losing out on $90,000 and securing an easy first-degree murder conviction. Likewise, Ansari could cleanse his debt, but sign himself up for an open and shut first-degree murder conviction.

It is for this reason that the final verdict of manslaughter is so easy to believe. Goos would never kill Ansari, but he may have threatened his family and his boyfriend in an attempt to hasten the repayment of his loan, as Ansari testified in court. The courts have also described Ansari as “intelligent”; an intelligent person, especially a prospective law student, would not be foolish enough to kill in a situation where all the evidence would point directly to him.

The facts point to manslaughter – Goos threatened Ansari with the intention of scaring him, not hurting him, and Ansari snapped, responding to “intense provocation.” Later, he called his brother several times, and even sent a text message to Goos saying “Hey bro, I think I left my wallet in your car. Can you check for it...?” These aren’t things a normal person would do to cover their tracks, they’re blunders, and signs of a clearly panicked person. The jury agreed, and manslaughter was the charge for which Ansari was convicted in 2008.

Clear supporters of punitive sentencing called for Ansari to receive a harsher punishment than the one he was given. Goos’ sister pointed to a lawyer in West Vancouver who received seven years for fraud, a sentence two years longer than for the man who killed her brother. The real travesty is that Ansari was served with a lenient, rehabilitative punishment, and yet wasn’t properly rehabilitated.

Some of the blame lies on prison officials. Ansari says he was refused access to a violent offender program, a program the parole board later held was necessary for his release. Because of this, his parole was reviewed and expedited, largely because of this mistake.

Worryingly, at an earlier parole hearing this summer, a prison psychologist noted that Ansari “lacks victim empathy” and continues to present a “low to moderate risk for future violence, especially gratuitous violence.” Not only did Ansari bypass a violent offenders program because of the mistakes of prison officials, but a half year before his release he was still considered a risk to re-offend.

Ansari’s case is shocking to many, and most erroneously point fingers to the weak sentencing policies of Canadian courts. This case doesn’t undermine rehabilitative sentencing; it simply shows us what happens when we cannot decide between the two. Violent offenders need to be either locked up or taught to live in our society. Ansari’s case is shocking because he was forced to do neither, a complete failure for both sides.

//Mac Fairbairn, Opinions Editor

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