A sentencing hearing for Shawn William Johnson Thursday morning (Oct. 20) at the Chilliwack Law Courts illustrated why justice can’t be a cookie-cutter thing.
Anyone taking a look at the long list of charges facing the 37-year-old would have concluded that he was about to have the book thrown at him and he deserved it.
All told, Johnson had 13 counts against him, including assault with a weapon, possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose and uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm. Any of those might normally warrant jail time.
Instead, he left the courtroom with a suspended sentence and 12 months of probation, because context matters.
Johnson pleaded guilty on a pair of lesser charges related to two separate incidents.
His lawyer, Ondine Snowden, told the court that he has long suffered with a combination of schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. Johnson was homeless on April 13, 2021, struggling with his mental health when he wedged his arm through the front door of an Abbotsford-area Esso and stole a lighter, some chips and some chocolate, valued at $50.
For that he pleaded guilty to one count of theft $5,000 and under.
He was still struggling on June 12, 2021 when he broke into a truck in Chilliwack looking for a place to sleep. He caused damage to the inside of the vehicle, and for that he pleaded guilty to one count of mischief to property over $5,000.
Details of the other charges weren’t revealed, and all of them were stayed. In a joint submission by Crown and defence, both sides agreed that Johnson doesn’t have a long criminal history and his mental health had him behaving erratically when he committed all of the crimes.
Justice Peter Whyte concurred, noting that Johnson has found steady employment since, is in a much better place with his mental health and has done well staying at A Better Place Transition Housing in Surrey.
He said the 13 counts paint the picture of a person who was in the throes of a combination of mental health and social issues.
“I know a bit about bi-polar illness and the kind of destruction it can cut through a person’s life when it’s untreated,” said Whyte, who was a psychiatric social worker before moving into law. “I view it as one of the most insidious illnesses because a person can come out of that manic stage to be relatively stable and realize their life is in tatters.”
Whyte also acknowledged the difficulty of a homeless person staying current with medication.
“When you don’t have a place to put your head down at night, it’s very hard to look at the higher level of needs in a person’s life, like medication.”