A Chilliwack man once given an indeterminate prison sentence that comes with a dangerous offender designation is now at large and back on the streets after a split decision by the B.C. Court of Appeal.
In prison since receiving the dangerous offender status in 2009, Ryan Joseph Walsh was released on Tuesday.
Walsh was first convicted of a vicious hammer attack on a stranger on Halloween 2004 and then in 2008 he stabbed a man in the back causing a partially collapsed lung, a potentially life-threatening injury.
The judge in his 2008 conviction concluded that Walsh’s conduct met the requirements of the dangerous offender designation in the criminal code and handed him to an indeterminate sentence. At the trial, during which Crown brought the application, psychiatrists gave opinions that suggested Walsh posed “a high risk of future violence.”
But in a 2-1 decision rendered in Vancouver on May 24, the appeal court overturned the original judge’s designation. Justice Elizabeth Bennett and Justice David Tysoe accepted Walsh’s appeal, with Justice Gail Dickson writing a dissenting opinion.
The dangerous offender status from section 753 of the criminal code, is handed out for a serious personal injury offence that constitutes “a pattern of repetitive behaviour.” To meet the test, the offender also has to constitute “a threat to the life, safety or physical or mental well-being of other persons.”
On Oct. 31, 2004, the then 18-year-old Walsh was at a Halloween party. As it was dispersing, he and his friends began to vandalize a truck. Walsh had a hammer and was trying to light fireworks. The owner of the truck tried to stop the group and Walsh struck him two or three times on the head. The victim Garry Wilson suffered “serious and lasting injuries.”
Testimony in court found that Walsh was unapologetic and suggested he was defending himself after being punched by Wilson.
“That’s what you get for picking on an 18-year-old kid with a hammer,” Walsh said in a statement to police entered as the only piece of evidence that he acted in self defence. “Like who’s smart enough to do that? Like you put two and two together like, uh, it’s amazing what people do, though, it’s so dumb.”
Walsh was sentenced to five years with two years of credit resulting in three-year term. He appealed that conviction, but that was dismissed.
Soon after serving that sentence, on Nov. 21, 2008, Walsh went with a drug dealer to recover money from four men who had supposedly underpaid for marijuana. Walsh had his head smashed through the window of a pickup truck during an altercation. He and another man later went back to confront some individuals, including a man named Bradly Yarrow. Yarrow grabbed a beer bottle and said he was going to smash it over Walsh’s head. Walsh told him to put the bottle down and as he did, Yarrow was stabbed in the back.
The 22-year-old was convicted of aggravated assault and assault with a weapon, and the Crown applied for the dangerous offender designation, which was granted by Justice Elizabeth Arnold-Bailey in 2009.
Years after his incarceration, an online petition was created in 2015 entitled “Help Free Ryan Walsh, Let’s Bring him home.”
Walsh’s B.C. Court of Appeal hearing was held Oct. 5, 2016 and the judgment decided May 24, 2017.
In the 2-1 decision, Justice Bennett found that his conduct did not form the pattern of repetitive behaviour required by the Criminal Code. Justice Tysoe concurred.
“Not everyone who is a criminal or for that matter a danger to the public is a dangerous offender,” Bennett quoted from a 1999 decision, R. v. Neve. “In the spectrum of offenders, the dangerous offender legislation is designed to target – and capture – those clustered at or near the extreme end.”
“To paraphrase Neve, Mr. Walsh is certainly a criminal, and may represent a danger to the public, however, his conduct has not demonstrated a pattern of repetitive behaviour,” Bennett wrote.
As to the pattern, Bennett found the two assaults had too many differences to be considered repetitive. She did, however, find the first offence to be “vicious and brutal” while the second was “a retaliatory response to a very unusual situation.”
In dissent, Justice Dickson found instead that Walsh’s 2004 and 2008 offences did meet the definition of a pattern of repetitive behaviour, making the dangerous offender designation reasonable along with the indeterminate sentence.
“Based on the expert evidence, [the original sentencing judge] also found the pattern of repetitive behaviour that includes the 2008 predicate offence contained enough of the same elements of unrestrained dangerous conduct present in the 2004 offence to enable confident prediction that Mr. Walsh will likely offend in the same way in the future,” Justice Dickson wrote in her dismissal of the appeal.
The decision led to Walsh’s release this week. He is next due in court June 19 to reset his bail conditions by the BC Supreme Court. The next step is for Walsh to be re-sentenced for the 2008 offence, but since he has served more than eight years in prison already, there is almost no chance he would be forced to serve more time, according to Crown counsel John Lester.
Lester said Crown has not decided yet on a course of action, but they could apply for a long-term supervision order for Walsh who is now 31.
On June 6, there was a post on Ryan Walsh’s Facebook page that said: “thanks for all the support from everyone, wishes do come true.”
The next day he posted that he started school at Thompson Rivers University.