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Defense pleas for community sentence order in Willness manslaughter case

The defence for Alex Willness, the man found guilty of manslaughter in a 2020 assault in Nelson, have asked for a conditional sentence of two years served in the community, and three years probation. 

Willness hit off-duty Abbotsford police officer Alan Young over the head three times with a skateboard during an altercation on Baker Street in July 2020. His two-day sentencing hearing this week heard submissions from both the defence and crown. 

The crown says they’re pushing for a six-to-eight-year sentence without conditions, but the defence argues that is unreasonable and doesn’t fit the crime. 

The defense argued Willness, who identifies as one-sixth Cherokee through his great-great-grandmother, suffers from intergenerational trauma because of colonization. They claimed his violent actions the night of the incident stem from his history of addiction and mental health disorders as a teen. 

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While combing through the circumstances of his upbringing, the defence argued that although there’s no official evidence of Willness’s Cherokee ancestry, the circumstances of his life are in line with what many indigenous Canadians experience because of the pain inflicted by colonization, to which Honorable Judge Lindsay Lyster stated she agreed.  

The defence asked Lyster to consider the implications of the sentence suggested by the crown, insisting that the sentence would not provide Willness with the proper tools he needs to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society but rather teach him more criminal skills and push him further away from rehabilitation. 

The defence also emphasized the steps Willness has taken since the incident to stay sober and turn his life around, highlighting how he spent almost 2 years out on bail in a facility in Nanaimo without breaching his bail conditions; that is until the end of July when he tested positive for fentanyl and was placed back into custody. 

His lawyers concluded their submission with a statement urging Judge Lyster to focus on delivering a sentence that will provide Willness with the proper tools to reintegrate and become a productive member of society, suggesting that the judge deliver a community sentence order (CSO) of two years with time served and three years probation. 

If Lyster decides the defence’s CSO suggestion is inappropriate, they ask that she consider allowing Willness to serve his time in a provincial facility that provides inmates with the types of programs Willness needs. 

To end the hearing Willness read his own statement, apologizing multiple times for the pain inflicted on Young’s family and friends, to the many witnesses who watched the incident happen, and to Young himself.  

He said his actions will stay with him for the rest of his life and promised to dedicate his future to making amends. 

No decision was made, but Lyster scheduled a fixing date for sentencing on Jan. 8. 

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