B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Duncan's oral reasons for sentence describe a savage attack by a man who had been evicted from a basement suite on East 5th Avenue.
Even after being thrown out of his home, Gerald Eldon Smith, 54, still occasionally slept in the unit, which was occupied by two friends.
At other times, he would sleep in the hallway before being told to leave by the 61-year-old building manager, Paul Belozer, or the landlord.
But things went horribly wrong on April 1, 2017, after Belozer found him again sleeping in a chair on the main floor.
When Smith wouldn't leave, Belozer called 9-1-1, and then started walking back to his suite downstairs.
"Mr. Smith followed him and hit him on the back of the head with an unknown object," Duncan said, according to a transcript on the B.C. Supreme Court website. "Mr. Belozer fell to the ground, hitting his head on something as he fell.
"While Mr. Belozer was on the ground, Mr. Smith kicked him in the rib cage multiple times," the judge continued. "Mr. Belozer lost consciousness. Mr. Smith stole Mr. Belozer’s cellphone and left him in the basement."
Belozer was first taken to St. Paul's Hospital and a few hours later was transferred to Vancouver General Hospital. Smith was arrested the following day for aggravated assault and assault with a weapon.
According to an agreed-upon statement of facts, inside Smith's backpack was Belozer's cellphone and a sock with a rock inside.
"The blood on Mr. Smith’s hands and clothing was subsequently determined to be Mr. Belozer’s blood," Duncan said.
Seven days later, Belozer died as a result of respiratory failure due to severe blunt-force chest injuries.
Smith was charged with second-degree murder but then agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter. He had two prior convictions for assault.
Duncan sentenced him to five-and-a-half years. But she deducted 19.5 months as credit for his time in pretrial custody. As a result, Smith will have to spend another 46.5 months in jail.
Belozer's parents were devastated
Both the victim's family and Smith shared extremely sad stories with the court.
Belozer was a small man—5'6", approximately 119 pounds—and suffered from serious pre-existing medical ailments, including COPD. His elderly parents were traumatized by the circumstances of their son's death and had to use money from their own funeral fund to cover the cost of Belozer's service.
"Mr. Belozer’s brother, Glenn, lost his other brother in a motor vehicle accident many years ago," Duncan said. "Paul was all he had left and they were very close. Glenn Belozer said that Paul’s death has been very difficult for their 94-year-old father, who has gone downhill since his son’s passing."
Smith's life story was marred by tragedies. He was born in Manitoba and raised on the Broken Head Ojibway Nation Reserve to two parents who were residential-school survivors.
There was a great deal of family violence, with the father "regularly beating his mother" and also beating his sons, according to the oral reasons for sentence.
"When Mr. Smith’s father was drunk he would talk about the abuse he suffered at school," Duncan said. "He learned traditional skills from his father. His mother never talked about her experience at residential school, from which Mr. Smith infers that the abuse must have been horrendous."
Smith also claimed that he was sexually assaulted by a priest at a church-run residential day school, whereas other priests called him a savage and the nuns cut his long hair.
His parents eventually stopped drinking alcohol and he remains in contact with his siblings.
"His community has suffered from residential schools, day schools, and the Sixties Scoop, as well as a high percentage of children in foster care and a high rate of incarceration for members of its community," Duncan said. "Despite their shortcomings as parents, Mr. Smith’s mother and father ensured their children did not end up in foster care."
A psychological assessment determined that Smith has posttraumatic stress disorder. He told the psychologists that while drugs and alcohol temporarily numbed the pain, they also increased the likelihood of him acting aggressively.
The 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling, R. v. Gladue, found that judges must consider "unique systemic or background factors" when an Aboriginal person comes in contact with the justice system.
Caroline Buckshot provided the court with a Gladue report, in which Smith stated that if he was not intoxicated, the attack would not have occurred.
"He found it hard to articulate the remorse he felt for what he had done," Duncan said. "Ms. Buckshot provided a list of community-based restorative justice programs which were available to Mr. Smith."
The psychologist, Peggy Koopman, told the court that Smith was a "low to moderate risk to re-offend" and that his attitude was a "significant plus".
"He presented as open to working with elders, therapy and programming to better understand his inner dynamics, release long held trauma and significantly diminish the rage that surfaces when he is intoxicated," Duncan stated. "She found him intelligent and knowledgeable, someone whose problem-solving skills would be enhanced through psychological intervention."