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July 12, 2002

Libin attacker sentenced


The only adult among the three people who attacked Joel Libin on a West Side street two years ago will spend the next three years in prison. The sentence was handed down last week to Dude Lenon, who has already spent 21 months behind bars awaiting trial.

The sentence, given by Madame Justice Wendy Baker of the B.C. Supreme Court July 4, amounts to about six years in total, because the court calculates time spent before sentencing as double that spent after conviction. Lenon has been in custody since August 2000. Two youths who also participated in the assault earlier received 18 months of house arrest. The Libin family was angered at the sentences received by the youths, and were not satisfied with the sentence handed down to Lenon.

"I wasn't expecting much and in that regard I wasn't disappointed," said Joel Libin's father, Len. "I don't think anything could satisfy me."

Joel Libin, now 19, is working as a counsellor at Camp Hatikvah this summer and was not in court to hear the sentence. He was considered medically dead when the ambulance arrived after the beating on Aug. 19, 2000. Paramedics revived him and he spent several months in a coma before beginning an arduous rehabilitation. Libin, who had been an excellent golfer and good student, has not picked up a golf club since the attack and has struggled to complete his courses at college, said his father. In an earlier news conference after the young offenders were sentenced, Joel Libin spoke of the difficulties he has in everyday living. Though he looks the same on the outside, he said, everything has changed for him.

In her statement to the court, the judge cited numerous precedents she considered in settling on Lenon's sentence. Sentences for aggravated assault tend to range from 16 months to six years, she said. The low end would be for a participant in a fight that escalated into aggravated assault while the extreme end would be for a premeditated attack on a defenceless individual.

Baker recounted some of the findings of Lenon's criminal trial, noting that he was the instigator of the attack, goading his two younger friends into kicking and beating Libin, who had just emerged from a bus near his Dunbar-area home. Libin, who is Jewish, was apparently chosen at random by the three, who were out to find someone to attack after a night of heavy drinking.

The attack was unprovoked, it was a group assault dubbed during the trial as a "recreational beating," there was an aspect of premeditation and the effects on the victim were both life-threatening and life-altering, the judge noted. For these reasons, she chose to sentence Lenon to the higher end of her stated precedents.

The judge said she took into account Lenon's ethnicity. Canadian courts have declared that aboriginal Canadians deserve special consideration in judicial proceedings, a factor that could have reduced Lenon's sentence. (He is a member of the Musqueam band in South Vancouver.) Baker noted, however, that protection of society and the fact that Lenon has two prior convictions for violent offences override any ameliorating factors his ethnic identity might have presented. She also took into consideration that Lenon's mother was an alcoholic who abandoned him at the age of 18 months, leaving Lenon to grow up in foster care and institutional settings.

In setting Lenon's sentence, the judge stressed that she was not giving up on the hope that the convicted assailant could be rehabilitated. Lenon's inability to control his anger and his demonstrated abuse of alcohol and other substances makes him a prime candidate for some of the programs that will be available to him in prison, she said.

Lenon still does not appreciate the effect his attack has had on Libin, said the judge. Though Lenon showed emotion during the trial, it was the judge's conclusion that Lenon still underestimates and denies the effects his actions have had on his victim.

Joel Libin has what is referred to as "permanent structural brain damage," said his father. It is difficult for medical professionals to predict recovery levels for victims of brain damage but, already, the younger Libin has far surpassed what doctors expected him to accomplish.

"Physically, Joel's recovery has been remarkable," said his father outside the courtroom. "His resolve ... has been absolutely amazing."

A bright spot amid the whole dismal matter has been the support the Libins have received from the Jewish and general communities.

"We have always appreciated the support of the community," said Len Libin. He specifically cited Rabbi Philip Bregman and Cathy Bregman and their son, Shai, who is a close friend of Joel Libin's.