No justice


I’m just going to come right out and say it – Canada’s justice system is broken.

I spent part of last Wednesday afternoon in a Lindsay courtroom as Robert Anthony Ferguson, a 63-year-old Highlands East resident, was sentenced to life in prison for the 2019 murder of Dylan Dahlke.

Although, it isn’t really a life sentence… Ferguson will be eligible for parole in just 12 years.

Whether I’m outdated in my thinking or not, I’m a firm believer that life in prison should mean exactly that. Looking at the facts of this case, Ferguson brutally murdered Dahlke, who was 29, in cold blood. He stabbed him in the back with a kitchen knife and left him to bleed out, before retreating to his bedroom.

There has been no explanation for the violent outburst. Justice Clyde Smith, who presided over last week’s sentencing, referenced an apparent disagreement between the pair over alcohol and cigarettes on the night of the murder. Ferguson has never discussed his motivation, saying only in a statement to the court that Dahlke and his partner, who was Ferguson’s tenant, were verbally abusive towards him.

That someone could lose their life over something so trivial is mind boggling – Smith said as much while delivering his reasoning for the sentence.

I’m not so much criticizing the judge for this decision – it’s a systemic problem. He quoted at least three prior cases in his explanation. There was already precedent for such a paltry term of parole ineligibility. Add that to the fact the Crown was only seeking 15 years of ineligibility, and Smith’s hands were largely tied.

While it was recognized that Ferguson has had challenges in his past, and has a learning disability, a psychological assessment determined he was free of any serious mental diagnoses that could have explained the outburst. Smith said this suggested there may be good reason to worry about the risk of Ferguson reoffending in the future.

That doesn’t sound like someone we want to, one day, be reintegrated back into society.

There was much publicity recently about a New York, U.S. man who had been jailed in 1999 for attempted murder and robbery. Sheldon Johnson was released in May 2023 after serving his sentence. He later appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, where he spoke of wanting to help people rebuild their life following a period of incarceration. He said jail should be more about rehabilitating convicted felons, rather than punishment.

Earlier this month, Johnson was arrested and charged with second-degree murder after a mutilated corpse was discovered in a freezer of a home in the Bronx. Johnson has professed his innocence, and the charges haven’t been proven in court. He remains in police custody.

Not all criminals reoffend, and there is a chance that people turn their lives around while inside. But I don’t think people with a history of committing horrific, grotesque crimes – and murder is at the very top of that scale – should be given the opportunity to get out and, potentially, do it again.

While Ferguson has, apparently, shown remorse for his actions, Dahlke’s family, including sister Adeilah, say they have not received an apology. Or even an explanation. There’s no opportunity for rehabilitation for them, only grief and misery.

Dahlke was just 29 at the time of his death – with his whole life ahead of him. It feels wrong that he won’t have the opportunity to live it, while the man responsible for his untimely demise counts down the days until he’s free.