Crime and mild punishment

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

Among vicious crimes, this one stood out: Two strong young men savagely beat and kicked a frail, ailing 59-year-old man to death, and then kicked, punched and taunted a woman who intervened to help him.

But, amazingly, the young men — reservists in the Canadian military — caught a huge break last week: the Crown accepted a plea bargain for manslaughter, enabling them to dodge the far more serious charge of second-degree murder.

The difference is significant. If they'd been found guilty of second-degree murder, they would have gone to jail for a minimum of 10 years with no possibility of parole. By contrast, manslaughter has no minimum sentence, and parole is often possible after serving one-third of the sentence.

So Pte. Brian Deganis and Cpl. Jeffrey Hall, who will be sentenced April 30, could, for instance, receive 10-year jail sentences, but qualify for parole after only three years. (A third man pleaded guilty as an accessory after the fact.)

It's hard to imagine these two young men getting such a lucky break if their victim hadn't been homeless.

In allowing them to plead guilty to the lesser charge, veteran Crown prosecutor Hank Goody cited the fact that they were intoxicated during the crime, and therefore possibly unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions.

True, intoxication can be used as a defence, but it rarely succeeds with juries. Toronto criminal lawyer Clayton Ruby notes that juries are particularly unlikely to accept the defence of drunkenness where there's a series of blows leading to a death, suggesting a co-ordinated assault. In this case, the jury never got to pass judgment.

Rather than a random act of drunken violence, the killing of Paul Croutch sounds almost like a hate crime against the homeless.

According to testimony at the trial, Deganis, before attacking Croutch in the middle of the night, had attempted to attack another person in a bus shelter and, during the attack on Croutch, Deganis shouted he "hated bums and homeless people and wanted to take them on."

The woman who intervened said Deganis thrust his military tags in her face and screamed: "This gives us the right to kill all the homeless bums, crackheads, whores."

Did these men somehow feel their military affiliation entitled them to behave like thugs?

This raises the disturbing possibility that these young reservists considered the Rambo-like posture of Canada's top general, Rick Hillier, gave them a licence to behave aggressively.

Certainly Hillier — who announced his retirement last week to much fawning in the media — set a very different tone for the Canadian Forces, referring to the enemy in Afghanistan as "detestable murderers and scumbags" and suggesting the role of the Canadian military is to "be able to kill people."

For that matter, is it likely that this crime would have happened if our society as a whole didn't communicate contempt for the homeless by treating them as subhuman, abandoning them to sleep on metal grates in frigid temperatures?

Finally, it should be noted that the killers got a rather soft ride in the media. Last Friday, the Globe and Mail ran a front-page story by Christie Blatchford suggesting the courtroom tears of the killers showed they felt genuine remorse.


It's hard to imagine the Globe running such a sympathetic front-page story if, say, it had been two drunken young homeless men viciously killing a retired military officer, while shouting anti-war slogans.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.