The embattled Chief of Red Pheasant First Nation was sentenced, again, in North Battleford provincial court Wednesday.
Stewart Baptiste received a suspended sentence and six months probation in connection to guilty pleas entered for two charges of violating his probation.
One of the charges was a breach of probation by alcohol consumption, in connection to a March 12 incident where, according to the prosecutor, Baptiste had rye and Coke at Mr. Ribs restaurant in North Battleford. The other charge was a guilty plea for failure to report to probation officers.
He also pled guilty to two charges of driving while suspended. Baptiste received fines of $300 and $500 for the two tickets, plus surcharges.
Baptiste had also been charged with breach of restitution, but that was withdrawn by the Crown as counsel told Judge David Kaiser Baptiste had paid up the remaining $250 required.
The probation breaches are connected to the conditions attached from a sentencing Sept. 19, 2011, after Baptiste pled guilty to mischief when a battery was thrown through a car window. Among the conditions imposed for his probation was to pay restitution and refrain from alcohol.
The March 12 breach of probation incident was widely reported in the media as it took place on the same day as the election on Red Pheasant First Nation. Baptiste wound up learning of his re-election as Chief while sitting in a jail cell.
Baptiste still faces an impaired driving charge that is to go to trial in October.
Both Crown prosecutor Glen Jacques and defence lawyer Randy Kirkham recommended the suspended sentence and probation, which comes with conditions including keeping the peace and being of good behaviour, as well as abstaining from alcohol and prohibitions on entering establishments where alcohol is sold or consumed.
Kirkham also assured the court the Mr. Ribs incident was the only one where he consumed alcohol.
Before the sentence was handed down Baptiste offered an apology for this actions.
He said he would “just like to apologize for my misconduct. I realize this sort of thing is unacceptable and I’d like to apologize.”
Judge Kaiser made clear his concerns with Baptiste’s failure to abide by court orders and his “disregard” for the legal requirement to have a driver’s license.
He said Baptiste ought to be “somebody your community should look up to” and “not look down on,” and was critical of Baptiste’s failure to be an example for others.
Kaiser also gave Baptiste a warning. “If you break this probation, expect a jail term,” Kaiser said from the bench.
Baptiste was joined in court by his family and supporters, who accompanied him as he left the courthouse through the front doors.
Outside, an organized protest took place as several women from Red Pheasant First Nation stood at the side of Railway Avenue to denounce the Chief and call for his removal.
The group held placards that read “The Chief needs to step down,” and “Ethical Leadership and Stable Government – This is what Red Pheasant wants.” They were critical of Chief Baptiste for not being a good role model and for not addressing issues such as the state of housing on the reserve.
”Look at the little kids, that’s what they see,” said Linda Whitford, one of the protesters, who calling his legal woes an “embarrassment.”
“Everybody’s just laughing at him on the other reserves,” said Whitford.
Another opponent, Elsie Wuttunee, was fed up with seeing the Chief continually spending money on legal fees in court.
“We’ve got two years of court,“ said Wuttunee.
“It’s embarrassing to have a chief that’s on the most wanted list on the radio! It’s embarrassing to Saskatchewan chiefs, I’m sure, to have a leader like this.”
The group called for Baptiste’s ouster from office and Wuttunee adds an appeal of Baptiste’s recent election has been filed with the federal department of aboriginal affairs.
Wuttunee also told the Regional Optimist she wants to see changes to the Indian Act to address the “lack of accountability” on the reserve.
She was especially critical of what she calls a rash of “structural and social problems,” noting there “is a lot of addiction, a lot of poverty and there’s a lot of favouritism.”
Wuttunee adds there is also chronic unemployment and expressed a desire for more job creation on Red Pheasant.
Despite the protests, supporters and family of Baptiste responded by praising the work of the embattled chief.
“We were in deficit before the chief came in,” said Helen Tootoosis. “We’re not in deficit now.”