Update: January 28, 2022 – 12:18 MT. This report has been updated to reflect that following Thursday’s hearing, Judge Donovan Molloy ordered that a pre-sentence report be completed and extended the time to make a sentencing decision.
A convicted cocaine dealer rebuffed a Northwest Territories judge’s insistence that a report be completed on his Indigenous ancestry, even though it could have led to a shorter prison sentence.
On Thursday, Peter Antimo Battisti, 21, told Judge Donovan Molloy that he just wanted to get on with being sentenced. He was steadfast in his disinterest in having a pre-sentence report completed, which would explore his family’s history regarding residential schools and inter-generational trauma.
Battisti was arrested after an RCMP officer observed him selling cocaine to a man in Inuvik on May 20. Police subsequently seized a total of $31,890 in cash and 1.5 ounces – or 44 grams – of cocaine, packaged for sale in 82 individual bags.
When Molloy learned that Battisti is of Indigenous and Italian heritage on Tuesday, he questioned why defence lawyer Jay Bran had not ordered a pre-sentencing report that would include details about his client’s background, also known as Gladue factors.
“If we are going to sentence him based on that he’s an Indigenous offender, then we’re going to have a report made,” Molloy said.
The longstanding Gladue principle requires judges in Canada to consider the unique systemic or background factors which may have played a part in bringing an Indigenous offender before the courts, and to make sentencing decisions accordingly — including community alternatives to incarceration.
Molloy even considered demanding that a more extensive Gladue report be completed by a specialist. Compared to regular pre-sentenicing reports, which are prepared by a probation officer, Gladue reports focus more on an offender’s Indigenous background.
But that would be an issue as Gladue reports are not produced in the territory. Justice officials have said that regular pre-sentencing reports are adequate as NWT courts are familiar with the history of Indigenous people due to the territory’s high percentage of Indigenous residents.
“Nobody has told me I can’t,” Molloy said of ordering a Gladue report.
Bran then questioned who would produce it.
“My understanding is we don’t prepare Gladue reports in the Northwest Territories. We have pre-sentence reports here. I would love for an order that a Gladue report be done … I think that’d be very helpful,” he said.
Battisti, however, firmly objected to having either a pre-sentence or Gladue report done.
“I didn’t grow up on a reserve, I didn’t go into foster care and I didn’t go through any inter-generational trauma,” he said.
Battisti said his mother is half Indigenous and a member of a First Nation in Ontario, and that he has a status card at his mother’s house in Sudbury. His grandmother is a residential school survivor.
In the end, Battisti said he may be willing to receive a longer sentence than three years imprisonment and a $2,500 fine, which Crown prosecutor Sonya Sehgal requested.
Molloy deemed that sentence far too lenient for the trafficking charge and several other offences committed in Sudbury that Battisti had pleaded guilty to.
“We have communities of vulnerable people who have been by virtue of the impacts of colonialism, and discrimination are rife with addiction problems,” the judge said. “Here we have a guy who comes up here with prior convictions for trafficking and comes up here to prey on the vulnerable people in Inuvik.”
Battisti said he wants to get out of the territorial jail system and into a federal prison — perhaps closer to his home in Ontario — where he can take college courses and trades training.
Battisti was born and raised in Sudbury. He didn’t continue his education beyond grade nine because he began skipping school and getting into trouble, but he recently completed his GED.
His criminal record includes two recent cocaine-related convictions, along with entries for armed robbery, assault causing bodily harm, and carrying a concealed weapon.
“Even though he’s 21, he’s lived a lot of very difficult years,” Bran said. “He’s been involved in a lot of difficult things. He’s ashamed of some of the things he’s done. He understands that he’s caused a lot of hurt for people.”
Bran suggested that if Molloy agreed to the Crown’s request of a 36-month global sentence, Battisti would forego up to half of the 378 days of remand credit he has earned in pre-trial custody so he would be eligible to serve federal prison time. If a total sentence is less than two years, an accused will serve their sentence in territorial jail.
Acknowledging Molloy’s disdain for what he viewed as a light sentence for Battisti’s offences, Bran said up to six more months could be added, bringing the sentence closer to 42 months.
In addition to the trafficking charge in Inuvik — which also included an obstruction charge for using a fake identity — Battisti also pleaded guilty to driving while impaired and refusal to take an impairment test after he was found sitting in a car in Sudbury in July 2020 with pills.
He also pleaded guilty to uttering threats, possession of a dangerous weapon and assault with a weapon related to a confrontation with a man leaving a beer store in Sudbury in May 2020.
Molloy initially decided to reserved his decision on sentencing until Friday at 1:30pm.
On Friday morning, however, the judge ordered that the Crown and defence lawyer submit their arguments to him in writing. He also ordered that a pre-sentencing report be completed – despite objections from Battisti.
The case is set to return to court on March 11.