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Bookkeeper spared jail time with a conditional sentence
A former bookkeeper found guilty of stealing $200,000 from the Cowichan Tribes Salmon Enhancement Project was spared jail time and received a conditional sentence.
Ernestine Elliott, 46, appeared before Judge A.F. Brooks in Duncan Provincial Court Sept. 30 to learn her fate after writing some 253 cheques to herself — money she was not entitled to — over a three-year period.
Brooks weighed the numerous aggravating and mitigating factors before passing sentence.
"It is acknowledged by both counsel that the facts are of a seriousness that a jail sentence is warranted,'' noted Brooks in his written judgement. "The only issue between Crown and defence is whether that sentence can be served in the community under a conditional sentence order or ought to be served in a jail.''
Brooks decided the sentence of imprisonment to be served in the community should be longer than what the Crown or defence lawyer Scott Sheets suggested, opting for 18 months.
"This duration will serve as a much lengthier oversight of Ms. Elliott's behaviour,'' Brooks indicated.
He imposed numerous conditions on Elliott that must be met during the first 12 months, with the replacement of a house arrest term with a curfew and additional hours of community service for the final six months.
In making his determination, Brooks rejected Crown Counsel Mark Rankin's submission that a jail sentence was the only means to properly address the circumstances of the case.
"With the greatest of respect for a careful and thoughtful submission, I disagree with that analysis.
"First, the effect of that analysis in the circumstances of this case would be to focus on the principles of deterrence and denunciation to the exclusion of the other principles of sentencing.
"Second, the punishment would extend beyond what was fit if Ms. Elliott were incarcerated on the Lower Mainland so far from family and friends who would assist in her rehabilitation. Third, the conditions attached to a conditional sentence would achieve restorative goals that would not be achieved if Ms. Elliott were in an institution removed from her community.''
Brooks noted there is no jail for women to serve their sentence on Vancouver island which meant she would be taken from the place she's lived virtually all her life and separated from the ties that support her.
Brooks added Elliott does not have a prior criminal record and suggested circumstances of her upbringing are "not adequately captured by the word traumatic.
"Her absence of criminal record borders on astonishing when her background is taken into account. Despite the presence of many stressors that lead to the commission of criminal offences, Ms. Elliott has not until this time committed any offense. The only conclusion to draw is that there is at Ms. Elliott's core a person who can be a strong person that can withstand pressures to commit offenses.''
Brooks indicated in his sentencing considerations that Elliott had received intimidating phone calls after her conviction and was forced to change her phone number. The way the case was covered in the media also brought embarrassment and shame to Elliott, Brooks added, from information provided by Sheets and not challenged by Crown.
The News Leader Pictorial received a letter from Kelsie Mallart of New Westminster, who formerly worked in law enforcement, that blasted the decision.
"No wonder our justice system is weak and dysfunctional and subject to ridicule in the global community,'' wrote Mallart.
"This criminal should have received five years in jail and three years' probation and 300 hours community work and to repay all funds with interest. What does a conditional sentence do? Nothing.''
You can read the complete account of Brooks' findings here.