Akwesasne man sentenced in 2015 human smuggling deaths

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – While describing him as a “committed family man,” a Cornwall judge has sentenced an Akwesasne man to just over a year in jail for a human smuggling attempt gone wrong in 2015.

Judge Rick Leroy sentenced 39-year-old Louie McDonald of Snye, Que. this morning (Wednesday) to 13 months and 25 days in jail after he was found guilty at trial on two counts of manslaughter and a breach of a probation order related to smuggling. He was found not guilty on a conspiracy charge.

There’s a wide range for sentencing on a manslaughter conviction – from a suspended sentence to life in prison. The Crown had sought three years in prison while the defence had asked for a decision in the range of a suspended sentence to 18 months jail.

The decision already takes into account about four months credit for time served in jail before trial.

McDonald, clasping his hands on the defence desk, showed no emotion as the decision was read.

Two young men from India drowned Sept. 1, 2015 and a third was rescued by a Good Samaritan after McDonald attempted to take them across the St. Lawrence River to the United States on a personal watercraft when the Seadoo capsized.

Leroy accepted the explanation that McDonald thought he would be smuggling three pounds of marijuana for some “easy money” in order to provide for his children but ended up being faced with a last-minute situation of three people being smuggled.

The judge felt McDonald’s remorse for his actions was “poignant.”

Leroy’s decision weighed heavily on a Gladue report – a pre-sentence report that focuses on an offender’s Aboriginal background and options for restorative justice instead of jail. He accepted all of the report’s findings and its assessment that McDonald was “worthy of a second chance.”

Those recommendations include that McDonald continue to live in Akwesasne, find a job, continue his “healing journey” and deal with his grief issues and that he attend parenting courses. McDonald has an adolescent daughter.

While there were no victim impact statements filed with the court, Leroy surmised the loss to the families in India “has to have been significant.”

“One day your son, brother, nephew, is going to the nearest Indian airport for travel to Canada. Four or five days later, he drowns in the St. Lawrence River at the east end of Cornwall Island.”

After his jail sentence is completed, McDonald will be on probation for a year-and-a-half. He also has a 10-year weapons ban, he’s not allowed to operate a motor vehicle for three years and he has to submit a DNA sample.

Around a dozen family and friends were in the gallery for the decision. “We’re not making comments,” one said to reporters as they left the courtroom. Defence lawyer Ian Paul also declined comment on the judge’s decision.

There was a co-accused in the case – a 26-year-old man from Hogansburg, N.Y. His proceedings went through the American judicial system.