A judge in a Whitehorse courtroom took the extraordinary step of approving a dangerous offender designation for a man guilty of a series of assaults in 2020.
This status carries with it a sentence of indeterminate length in a penitentiary and is imposed in an effort to protect the public from future harm.
Herman Peter Thorn, 51, sat in court awaiting sentencing on June 17. He had already pleaded guilty to two counts of assault causing bodily harm and two counts of aggravated assault, which all took place at an apartment in Whitehorse on Jan. 9, 2020.
Crown lawyers sought the dangerous offender designation for Thorn based on the Jan. 9 assaults and an assault on a corrections officer at the Whitehorse jail, which took place in June 2020.
Noel Sinclair, general counsel for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, explained the crown was seeking the dangerous offender designation. He argued that Thorn’s violent offences were an ongoing pattern and likely to continue.
He said other options available to the judge were a determinate prison sentence or a long-term offender designation which would allow increased monitoring and restrictions after Thorn’s release from prison.
The court heard the four victims in the apartment were left with serious injuries including head trauma, broken bones and facial bleeding. An RCMP statement from the day after the assaults says the victims ranged in age from 17 to 76 years old.
Judge Peter Chisholm read agreed facts submitted by the crown and defence lawyers which detailed Thorn’s history of violent behavior going back to the late 1980s.
The crimes detailed included assaults on his wife and daughter, fights with police officers, jail guards and fellow inmates as well as a violent mugging. He was also convicted of manslaughter in the 1997 death of his cousin in Edmonton and sentenced to more than 13 years in prison.
“They say I cut his jugular,” Thorn is quoted as saying in a report from a criminal psychiatrist read to the court by Chisholm. In the report, penned by Dr. Shabehram Lohrasbe, Thorn refers to the outbursts of emotion that preceded his past violence as “angry tantrums” which he has difficulty shutting out.
Thorn, a tall and heavily-built man with a pockmarked face and long dark hair, sat silently throughout the sentencing hearing and either looked ahead at Chisholm or cast his eyes downward.
Chisholm called Thorn’s criminal record “unenviable” and read from a variety of testimony before explaining his decision to impose the dangerous offender designation.
The testimony detailed Thorn’s cycle of progress and plans for the future while incarcerated followed by relapses with drugs and alcohol upon release and further violence soon to follow. Chisholm read out details of various therapy Thorn received while incarcerated, including a course focused on reconnecting him with Indigenous traditions as a basis for healing. Also noted was Thorn’s Christian faith that he has grown closer to while incarcerated in Whitehorse.
A Gladue report, which takes into account the effects of residential schools, addiction, mental illness and sexual abuse on an Indigenous offender’s life and criminal actions, was presented at the sentencing. Reading from the report, Chisholm detailed the traumatic conditions of Thorn’s childhood, particularly his parents’ heavy drinking and the death of his mother at his father’s hands before his 13th birthday. Chisholm also noted other events from Thorn’s life including the drug-related deaths of two of his brothers and his wife, Connie Thorn’s, conviction for manslaughter earlier this year.
The defence offered the possibility of a supportive environment for Thorn after his release in the Saskatchewan First Nations community he grew up in. Chisholm explained the community justice coordinator of the community, where Thorn had not lived since he was a child, offered a place to live and support for him at the end of his sentence.
Citing a lack of response to past treatment and unwillingness on Thorn’s part to take responsibility for his actions, Lohrasbe’s report concludes that Thorn is at a high risk to commit further violent acts in the future. The report also described Thorn’s recounting of past violence as emotionally muted. Also noted is the ways in which his childhood trauma and institutionalization made him seem immature.
Lohrasbe suggested the coming situation will be challenging for Thorn and the prospects of risk reduction through treatment are poor.
He added that his risk may fall as he ages, though this isn’t guaranteed, as he was 50 years old at the time of the most recent assaults.
Chisholm explained his agreement with the findings of Lohrasbe’s report. He found that a sentence of determinate length followed by a release into the community would be wholly inadequate to protect the public. He said that even a long term offender designation would not offer sufficient protection for the public making an indefinite sentence necessary.
Thorn will be eligible for parole in seven years pending review by the Parole Board of Canada.
Chisholm also imposed court orders demanding Thorn have no contact with his victims, prohibiting him from possessing firearms and other weapons for life and taking DNA samples from him.
Thorn was also sentenced to time served on other charges he pleaded guilty to, which did not play into the dangerous offender hearing.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org