A 65-year-old businessman with health issues and no prior criminal record has been sentenced to 21 months in jail for the illegal possession of a loaded handgun, stored in a dresser in the bedroom of his Toronto-area home.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Ken Campbell agreed there were personal mitigating circumstances in the case of Panagiotis (Peter) Boussoulas, but concluded that any form of conditional sentence would be inappropriate.
“The important message must be sent to the public that whatever their reasons, individuals must not unlawfully arm themselves with dangerous loaded firearms, or they will face serious custodial circumstances,” said Campbell, in the March 9 ruling.
Boussoulas will also be subject to a two-year term of probation, after he is released from custody.
The Superior Court judge rejected arguments by defence lawyer Randall Barrs that his client should receive a suspended sentence and a period of probation.
Boussoulas is going to appeal both the conviction and sentence. “the moral turpitude here is quite low,” says Barrs, who adds that his client was granted bail this week pending appeal, by a judge of the court of appeal.
The sentencing ruling was issued as the lower courts await the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on whether mandatory minimums in the Criminal Code for illegal possession of a loaded weapon are unconstitutional. In November 2013, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down the minimums in R v. Nur.
The provisions imposed a minimum three-year sentence for a first conviction and five years for a subsequent finding of guilt.
The 21-month-jail term set out by Campbell is actually one of the lowest sentences imposed for this offence since the mandatory minimums were struck down in Ontario.
Provincial Court Justice David Cole handed down the equivalent of a 22-month sentence in R v. Ishmael, along with 475 hours of community service and two-years probation. The Ontario Court of Appeal, in R v. T.A.P., imposed a global sentence of two years less day, of which 21 months was to be served in the community, to a 45-year-old aboriginal woman with no prior criminal record.
A survey of reported cases since Nur was released indicates the gun possession sentences are normally at the level of the previously enacted mandatory minimums, or higher.
Vince Scaramuzza, who was defence counsel in Ishmael, says judges take gun offences very seriously.
“We may not have mandatory minimums, but the sentences are still very close to where it was,” says Scaramuzza.
The sentence imposed on his client was in part because he was a young adult, with no criminal convictions and strong family support, he says.
In the prosecution of Boussoulas, the court heard he owned a successful manufacturing business he operated with his two sons. In 2010, police raided a rental property owned by Boussoulas and discovered a large marijuana grow operation inside. Boussoulas admitted buying a .45 calibre Colt handgun illegally, but said it was to protect his family after receiving threats because of his potential involvement as a witness in the marijuana prosecution.
The handgun was discovered by police in December 2011 while executing a search warrant at the family home, based on information the defendant’s son Christopher, was in unlawful possession of firearms.
There were 18 members of the Toronto Police emergency task force unit involved in the 12:15 a.m. execution of the search warrant. Many of the officers wore balaclavas or night vision goggles, as they entered the large residential home. Campbell was told police believed evidence would be destroyed if the “dynamic entry” took place during the daytime. The Colt handgun was the only weapon recovered.
Campbell concluded that police acted “quite reasonably” in the raid and that a “knock and announce” method of executing the search warrant could have “compromised the safety” of the officers and the Boussoulas family.
On appeal, Barrs says the validity of the search warrant and information from a confidential informant will be at issue. The defence lawyer also questions the way the warrant was executed.
“It is the middle of the night, you are in bed with your wife, and the next thing you know, the door is knocked down, an army is coming through, and everyone is handcuffed,” says Barrs.
Campbell described Boussoulas as “a hard-working, contributing member of society” and a good family man. However, even for a first offender, a sentence of close to two years is a starting point, the judge stated.
“The criminal possession of handguns remains an all too prevalent threat to the people of Toronto,” wrote Campbell. “The public must be adequately protected.”
Update 5:30 pm: Comments from Barrs and Scaramuzza added.