SYDNEY, N.S. – A troubled 13-year-old Nova Scotia boy who “snapped” and attacked a taxi driver without reason or warning has been spared jail.
Judge Diane McGrath said the boy’s life “was characterized by instability and turmoil” last spring when he got into Brian MacDougall’s cab in Sydney, N.S. He had been sexually abused by a family friend, suffered from cognitive deficits, and split his time between his estranged parents’ homes.
“On May 12, 2018, (the boy) was a ticking time bomb,” McGrath said a written provincial court ruling released Wednesday.
The boy was alone in the cab, on the way to his brother’s to spend the night. “(He) suddenly and without provocation attacked the taxi driver with a beer bottle he had taken from his brother’s fridge,” the judge said. “The taxi driver was able to pull over to the side of the road and radio for help. Unfortunately, the driver was unable to get out of the car due to the suddenness and persistence of the attack.”’
MacDougall had multiple cuts to his face and neck, and on his forearm and hand as he tried to deflect the blows. He now suffers from depression, anxiety and continuing pain, and has been unable to return to work.
But McGrath rejected a prosecution call for a nine month jail term and 15 months probation for the boy, who pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.
She instead ordered two years probation – the maximum – saying there’s an opportunity to rehabilitate the boy, who she said has worked hard to make progress and behave.
“This court recognizes that this is an unusual step, but this is an unusual set of circumstances,” she said.
She said it is not surprising the teenager has trust issues, particularly with adult men. She noted his abuser’s case was before the courts at the time, and that mental-health professionals had assessed the boy as suicidal just days before the attack.
“We may never know what was going through (his) mind when he attacked the defenceless taxi driver Mr. MacDougall on May 12, 2018, but it is clear … there was something more at play than simply a random, gratuitous act of violence,” said the judge.
“There is nothing to suggest that Mr. MacDougall did anything to provoke or bring about the violence… For some unknown reason (the boy) seems to have simply snapped.”
The boy was socially isolated and suffering from low self-esteem and anger issues, she says. She recalled seeing him in her court two days after the assault, saying he looked “young, scared and vulnerable.”
He has since turned 14, and the judge said he now looks healthier and more confident. He’s in a new school and made friends. He is making progress with his clinical social worker, has a stable home arrangement with his grandmother and is taking his medication regularly, she said.