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Sentencing hearing for Dr. Christy Natsis begins

By Ryan Paulsen, The Daily Observer

Dr. Christy Natsis arrives at the courthouse for the first day of her sentencing hearing in Pembroke, Ont. on Tuesday October 13, 2015. Natsis was found guilty in May of dangerous driving causing death and impaired driving causing death after a 2011 collision near Arnprior claimed the life of Bryan Casey. 
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Ryan Paulsen/Pembroke Daily Observer/Postmedia Network

Dr. Christy Natsis arrives at the courthouse for the first day of her sentencing hearing in Pembroke, Ont. on Tuesday October 13, 2015. Natsis was found guilty in May of dangerous driving causing death and impaired driving causing death after a 2011 collision near Arnprior claimed the life of Bryan Casey.
Ryan Paulsen/Pembroke Daily Observer/Postmedia Network

Dr. Christy Natsis will be spending time in jail for her involvement in the collision that claimed the life of Bryan Casey on Highway 17 near Arnprior in the spring of 2011.

The only question is “how much?”

The dentist's three-day sentencing hearing kicked off on Tuesday in a Pembroke courtroom, with the first day largely devoted to hearing the submissions of her defence team, Michael Edelson and Vincent Clifford.

Almost immediately, however, the hearing was adjourned for roughly 30 minutes to allow for presiding Justice Neil Kozloff and Natsis herself to read through the victim impact statements to be read later in the hearing. After court resumed, Crown attorney John Ramsay was informed that he would have to enforce some edits to a few of the statements. In particular, Kozloff took exception to nine paragraphs of the statement to be read by Casey's widow, LeeEllen Carroll, saying they made reference to elements outside the intended scope of a victim impact statement, including elements of the trial procedure itself.

He did, however, underscore his awareness that the length and nature of the four-year-long trial has had an undeniably negative impact on all involved, and particularly the family of Bryan Casey.

“I am perfectly aware of that,” Kozloff told Ramsay and everyone else in court. “I am fully aware of the pain this entire process has caused them.”

In addition to the matter of making necessary cuts to the victim impact statements, Natsis's defence team also raised the issue of her pending breach of conditions charge, requesting that she be arraigned immediately and allowed to enter a plea via joint submission so that both matters could be dealt with by Kozloff during the same hearing.

On Nov. 17, 2011, while under orders to neither consume nor purchase alcohol, and while being barred from being anywhere that sells alcohol, Natsis was arrested after buying two 12-ounce bottles of vodka from a Rideau Street LCBO in Ottawa. Although the specifics of the joint submission weren't directly addressed until later in the proceedings, Natsis did enter a plea of guilty, and Clifford did say that the sentence agreed to by both parties, 40 days in jail, would be served consecutively in addition to whatever sentence Kozloff handed down at the end of the hearing for the main charges of impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death.

Once he got around to starting his submission, Edelson devoted most of the remainder of the morning to addressing the Crown's case law brief, rather than his own. He meticulously dissected the seven cases referred to by Ramsay, revealing that the prosecution would be seeking a prison term of between six and eight years for the charges, and breaking down the distinguishing features of each of their cited cases in an attempt to prove that they were far more different than similar to that of Natsis.

Specifically, his comments focused on the “moral blameworthiness” involved in the various charges at the heart of those cases, and highlighted their aggravating factors that were not present in the Natsis case.

Over the course of his detailed tour of impaired driving case law, Edelson had a few key points. The first, and one that he repeated several times, is the idea that any sentence handed down to a first-time offender should be as short as it possibly can while still satisfying the core principles of sentencing, namely to act as a deterrent and denunciation of the act in question. The second overarching theme of his comments on both his own brief and his opponent's was framing sentences of four to five years as being substantial, even when considering various aggravating factors like lengthy criminal records or markedly high blood-alcohol levels.

Several times, Edelson made mention of the fact that in many of these cases, the defence was seeking a conditional sentence instead of jail time, an option he quickly admitted was unavailable to Natsis, and one they were not actively seeking in the case.

Two cases that Edelson paid particular attention to as part of his own brief were the horrific death of 17-year-old Emily Watts in 2009, for which the driver in question, Patricia Boyce, received a sentence of four years, despite a myriad aggravating factors, and the 2008 conviction of former NHL player Rob Ramage with impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death. That charge stemmed from a 2003 collision that claimed the life of former Chicago Blackhawks player Keith Magnuson. Ramage was sentenced to four years in prison, a term thought by some at the time to be remarkably long, considering pleas from Magnuson's family to spare him prison time and the fact that Ramage had no prior record.

At the end of his portion of the submission, Edelson announced that he was seeking a jail term of between three-and-a-half and four years in prison for Natsis, citing her lack of previous criminal record, the negative impact of the media scrutiny the case has garnered and her standing as a “pillar of her community” as mitigating factors that should be considered in her favour.

The last few hours of the day were occupied by Clifford reading excerpts from the 100 letters attesting to Natsis's character, standing in the community and tireless fundraising and volunteer efforts on behalf of a variety of community causes.

The court heard of her work on the Pembroke Regional Hospital Foundation board, her participation in “moms for maternity”, a group that raised huge sums of money to refit and upgrade the hospital's maternity department, her contributions to education through her sponsorship of a $750 per year scholarship at Fellowes High School, and her willingness to provide dental services either at a greatly reduced rater or entirely free to children, adults and families who were either in dire financial straits or who were suffering from any number of physical or mental complications that made finding treatment difficult.

The letters spoke of “the true Dr. Natsis” and asserted that “sometimes a good person can make a very bad mistake, one that has horrible consequences,” but that “the events of 2011 should not define Dr. Natsis.”

Clifford went on to characterize Natsis as a “pillar of society” who has been “vilified by the press” over the course of her trial. He concluded by highlighting a number of mitigating factors in the case, including her lack of criminal record, the support of her community and the fact she is “a good and decent person”.

The hearing will continue on Wednesday with Ramsay presenting the Crown's submissions, the reading of victim impact statements, and the court hearing from Natsis herself.

ryan.paulsen@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @PRyanPaulsen