By Delon Shurtz
Southern Alberta Newspapers
A southern Alberta man found guilty last year of dangerous driving and assault with a weapon against an RCMP officer, has been sentenced to 10 months in jail.
The sentence falls short of what the Crown was seeking by only two months, but it’s a significant departure from the CSO, conditional sentence order, recommended by Defence, which would have allowed James Edward Sowery to serve his sentence under house arrest.
“As the defence points out, some of the pre-conditions for a CSO are satisfied,” Justice Glen H. Poelman noted Jan. 29 in Court of King’s Bench, moments before sentencing Sowery. “There is no mandatory, minimum sentence; the term of imprisonment sought by the Crown would be less than two years; and the safety of the community, in my judgment, would not be in danger with appropriate conditions.
“However, the importance of general deterrence and denunciation require a period of incarceration in a custodial facility. That is the only form of sentence that will emphasize the very serious consequences that conduct such as Mr. Sowery engaged in on Feb. 14, 2022.”
Jurors deliberated for about six hours following Sowery’s trial last March before they found him guilty of deliberately accelerating his hydrovac truck toward RCMP officer Const. Cory Kornicki, who had been conducting traffic stops along Highway 4 near Milk River during the Coutts border blockade and protest.
During trial, Sowery said he did not intentionally swerve at Const. Kornicki, but the officer testified he had to jump out of the way to avoid being struck. Kornicki estimated Sowery was driving about 80 km/hr, while Sowery guessed his speed was closer to 60 km/hr.
Sowery said that as he approached the check stop, the officer waved at him, and he thought the officer was waving goodbye, not telling him to stop.
Sowery was pulled over shortly afterward and he immediately got out of his truck, knelt on the ground and put his hands in the air, the jury heard.
Defence said Sowery was compliant and cooperated with police when he was arrested, and while it would have been wiser for him to slow down, his actions did not constitute dangerous driving or assault with a weapon.
“I do not accept Mr. Sowery’s assertion that, first, Const. Kornicki seemed to be waiving Mr. Sowery on; second, that Mr. Sowery did not see a police officer outside a vehicle as he was approaching a checkpoint until the last seconds; and third, Mr. Sowery had no intention to harm or frighten anyone,” Poelman said.
“Mr. Sowery came very close to striking Const. Kornicki, and the slightest miscalculation on Mr. Sowery’s part, or unexpected movement by Const. Kornicki, would have resulted in serious injury or death.”
Despite Sowery’s claim that his perceived actions were not intentional, Poelman pointed out that his comments afterward suggest otherwise.
“After Mr. Sowery was arrested, he said, ‘oh, I’m sorry. Tensions are super high, tensions are super high.’”
Poelman noted that even though Sowery doesn’t have a criminal record, is generally a person of good character, has the support of many family and friends, and was “mostly” not critical of police conduct at the protest, his actions were motivated by his political views of Covid-19 restrictions.
“A society governed by the rule of law must firmly and clearly state that weaponizing political views will result in sanctions, even on those whose record is otherwise good,” Poelman said.
A pre-sentence report, which provides information and personal circumstances of offenders to help the judge determine a fit sentence, indicates that Sowery is not remorseful, and states, “the subject denied the malicious nature of the offence. The subject expressed only concerns surrounding how the offence has impacted his life, and continues to do so. He lacked any insight into how his actions may have impacted the victim of the offence or the community as a whole.”
Poelman acknowledged, however, that Sowery’s late apology through his lawyer to the officer earlier in the day, shows some recognition of that impact.
Kornicki’s victim impact statement, which was read by the Crown, notes that even though the officer was not struck by Sowery’s truck, he still suffers from the event.
“I was in shock and reduced to tears on the side of the highway,” Poelman quoted the officer. “I was unable to control my emotions in front of numerous police officers and members of the public. It is truly difficult to communicate the depth that this trauma has reached after the events of that day. I am extremely thankful that I escaped physical harm, but the mental and emotional scars from that incident remain.”
In addition to his jail sentence, Sowery is prohibited from possessing weapons and he must submit a sample of his DNA for the National DNA Data Bank. The Crown had also recommended Sowery be prohibited from driving for one year, but Poelman did not impose the prohibition.