In the Supreme Court’s zeal to expunge mandatory minimum sentences from the Criminal Code, they chose to conflate a true danger to society with a legal fiction created by a defence attorney.[i]
Alberta Court of Appeal Justice Thomas Wakeling, in overturning the original trial judge’s decision in R. v. Hills, expressed the thoughts of so many ordinary Canadians.
“I am… extremely troubled by the fact that Canadian courts have been busy striking down Criminal Code provisions that impose mandatory-minimum sentences because they can imagine a hypothetical offender for whom the mandatory-minimum prison sentence, in the court’s opinion, is much more severe than the imaginary offender deserves.”[ii]
The Crimes Committed
On May 15, 2014, Jesse Dallas Hills “left his [Lethbridge] house armed with a .303 big game rifle and a baseball bat.”[iii]
“He approached an occupied vehicle and swung the bat at it but missed,” wrote Kevin Martin in the Edmonton Journal.
“He then fired a shot at the vehicle and the driver fled. Hills next walked up to an unoccupied parked car and smashed the window with the bat before firing multiple shots into a home occupied by a couple and their two children.”[iv]
Mr. Hills appealed the mandatory minimum sentence of four years for his offences using a plausible but hypothetical situation that bore no resemblance to his offences.
The hypothetical defendant facing the same charges as Jesse Dallas Hills – who, by a series of miracles, did not kill five people that day – was a person using a pellet gun to shoot at a car and at a home.
In that hypothetical case, the mandatory minimum sentence would be grossly disproportionate to the crime committed.
Alberta Court of Appeals Ruling
The Alberta Court of Appeals refused to accept the argument because the hypothetical scenario presented by defence council bore no resemblance to the threat to public safety posed by Mr. Hills’ actions.
Alberta Justice Thomas Wakeling wrote that, were he presiding over Mr. Hills’ trial, “I would order imprisonment for a term of 2,142 days or approximately 5.9 years.”[v]
Even the presiding judge accepted that Mr. Hills deserved at least 4 years in prison.
“As described above, I have earlier decided that the provision does not impose cruel and unusual punishment on Mr. Hills,” wrote Honourable Mr. Justice Rod A. Jerke.[vi]
“I find that although a four-year sentence would not result in a grossly disproportionate sentence for Mr. Hills, it is reasonably foreseeable that it will result in a grossly disproportionate sentence for other offenders. As such, it contravenes s 12 of the Charter,” wrote the Honourable Mr. Justice Rod A. Jerke.[vii]
The 4-year mandatory minimum was the least Jesse Hills should have received, but his lawyer understood which way the legal winds blew on mandatory minimum sentences and appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court Decision
The Supreme Court sanitized Hills’ crimes to the point of absurdity.
“Following an incident in May 2014 where the accused shot at a car and at a residential home with a hunting rifle, the accused pled guilty to a number of offences, including intentionally discharging a firearm into or at a place, knowing that or being reckless as to whether another person is present in the place, contrary to s. 244.2(1)(a) of the Criminal Code.” [viii]
Contrast the Supreme Court’s “incident” with the description of events written by Alberta Court of Appeals Madam Justice Antonio.[ix]
 Around midnight on May 16, 2014, after ingesting large amounts of prescription medication and alcohol, Mr. Hills took a loaded .303 Enfield bolt action rifle, suitable for big game hunting, from his home in Lethbridge, Alberta. He ran outside towards a vehicle driven by Mr. Hamilton. Mr. Hills swung a baseball bat at the vehicle, but missed. He then fired one shot in the direction of Mr. Hamilton’s vehicle. Thinking he was being shot at, Mr. Hamilton left the area and phoned 911.
 Mr. Hills then walked to an unoccupied parked car and smashed the window with a bat. Neighbours called 911 as Mr. Hills walked towards the home of the Hunter family. Mr. and Mrs. Hunter were at home at the time along with their two children, aged seven and 16. Mr. Hills fired a round that went through the Hunters’ living room window, through the wall into the computer room where Mr. Hunter was, and imbedded into a drywall stud and bookcase. Mr. Hunter went to investigate and heard another shot. He could see Mr. Hills standing on the driveway with his finger on the trigger of the rifle. Mr. Hunter ran to the bedroom to alert his wife and pushed the panic alarm on the security system. He then heard what he thought was Mr. Hills trying to enter the house, with loud strikes on the door. Mr. Hunter opened the front door and yelled at Mr. Hills to get away. He grabbed an axe as a defensive weapon, at which point Mr. Hills fired again.
 Mr. Hunter called 911. While on the phone he noticed that his16-year-old daughter had come upstairs. He told her to go downstairs and the entire family retreated to the basement and remained there until police arrived.
 Later investigation showed that bullets penetrated the home. One went through a front window, then through a door. More than one bullet went through interior drywall and doors at a height that would hit a person standing in their path. One bullet was near the stairwell where the Hunters’ daughter had been standing.
 The impact of these crimes on the Hunters and the community was significant. Victim impact statements consistently reported increased anxiety and fear; in some cases, victims reported depression, fear of loud noises, feeling a lack of safety, difficulty sleeping and stomach pains. One victim reported flashbacks triggered by loud noises; another reported that the fear and stress manifested in physical complaints such as tension in the shoulders; another described bad dreams, nausea and ongoing worry that Mr. Hills would return. For some, their activities were affected: for example, one victim was no longer able to enjoy attending at the gun range.
 Mr. Hills does not remember the events and has no idea why he did what he did.
The Supreme Court in R. v . Hills ruling actually states, at one point, “The amount of punishment an offender receives must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the offender’s moral blameworthiness.”
But not Jesse Dallas Hills.
Because a hypothetical person at some imaginary point in the future – who does not pose the same danger to others as does Jesse Dallas Hills – might be convicted and sentenced to a 4-year-mandatory minimum prison term, Jesse Hills should not face that minimum 4 years either.
That is utter nonsense.
We will leave the final thought to Justice Thomas Wakeling, who expressed so clearly how we feel about this case.
There is no constitutional doctrine that justifies this unusual method.
I suspect that most informed and reasonable Canadians cannot comprehend why the courts do this.
[i] R. v. Hills 2023 SCC 2, https://decisions.scc-csc.ca/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/19638/index.do
[iii] Kevin Martin in the Edmonton Journal, Friday, February 19, 2021