Bank robber’s jail term slashed by Ontario court so he would avoid deportation to Syria
Aaron Lynett/National Post“Sentencing judges have long recognized that in crafting an appropriate punishment, the repercussions of a sentence must be considered.”
Because of the “collateral immigration consequences,” the appeal court reduced Amjad Nassri’s sentence by more than one third — from nine months to less than six months — for a bank heist that ended when he crashed into a truck during his getaway.
“It is self-evident that depriving the appellant of the right to appeal deportation to one of the most dangerous places on Earth would be grossly disproportionate to this offence,” wrote Justice Robert Sharpe on behalf of a panel of three judges.
The decision, however, is being criticized for circumventing the Harper government’s crackdown on foreign criminals remaining in Canada. Just weeks before Nassri was sentenced, the government’s new legislation speeding removal of foreigners sentenced to more than six months was enacted.
“It is somewhat troubling that the court seems to be trying to fit the sentence to fall shy of the six months bar, which was intended by Parliament to expedite the removal of non-citizen criminals,” said Sergio Karas, an immigration lawyer who is a former chair of the Ontario Bar Association’s immigration section.
Amjad Nassri was 21 in 2010 when he drove three men to a Toronto CIBC. As he kept his father’s Corolla running outside, his cohorts — armed with knives and their faces covered by bandanas — burst inside.
‘It is self-evident that depriving the appellant of the right to appeal deportation to one of the most dangerous places on Earth would be grossly disproportionate to this offence’
Mohamed Noori stayed at the front door keeping watch. Abdirahman Diriye and an unidentified accomplice vaulted over the cashier’s counter where one held a large knife to the back of a teller’s neck.
Within a minute they were running toward Nassri’s car. When everyone was inside, he peeled away.
He did not get far. Almost immediately he drove through a stop sign and into an 18-wheeler tractor-trailer. While his cohorts ran off, he remained and offered to pay the truck driver to ignore the crash, court heard.
Diriye, Noori and Nassri were arrested. The other two, who were younger than Nassri, pled guilty. Diriye was sentenced to two years less a day and Noori to 13.5 months.
Nassri went to trial, claiming he didn’t know his friends were planning to rob the bank. The judge didn’t buy it and found him guilty of robbery and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose. The Crown asked for a 13 month sentence; Nassri’s lawyer asked for eight.
The trial judge said eight months would “not accurately reflect the seriousness of this offence,” and sentenced him to nine months.
After sentencing, Nassri and his lawyer realized the gravity of his situation. One month before, the government’s Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act came into force limiting immigration appeal rights of permanent residents found inadmissible for “serious criminality.” The threshold dropped from a sentence of two years to a sentence of six months.
Nassri’s lawyer was unaware of the change.
Nassri came to Canada in 2005 with his parents and became a permanent resident here. He had no criminal record at the time of the robbery. By the time he was sentenced in 2013, he was taking business courses at college and running a small business, court heard. The judge found he was well on his way to rehabilitation.
During the appeal, the Ontario Court of Appeal heard evidence from an immigration lawyer that Nassri’s attempts at an immigration appeal would be “futile.”
Court also heard of “dangerous and grievous conditions” in Syria: “The fresh evidence strongly suggests that [Nassri] would be subject to mandatory military service upon returning to Syria, leading to his involvement in the civil war,” Sharpe wrote.
The court said the 2013 Supreme Court decision R. v. Pham allows courts to lower sentences in light of collateral consequences. That decision said the sentencing objective of rehabilitation made other consequences relevant.
Karas said Nassri still had ways to avoid removal to Syria without a cut-rate sentence: “Even though the legal remedies are now more limited, they are by no means non-existent,” he said.
But Nassri’s lawyer for the appeal, David Harris, defended the court’s decision.
“Sentencing judges have long recognized that in crafting an appropriate punishment, the repercussions of a sentence must be considered,” he said, pointing to loss of employment and the impact on the offender’s family. Pushing his client toward “inevitable deportation” made the original sentence disproportionate, he said.