No special treatment

Published on September 29, 2012

On Thursday, Jack Tobin got full parole, a little more than a year after he was sent to jail. Former Newfoundland premier Brian Tobin’s son was serving a three-year sentence for his role in the death of Alex Zolpis, 24,who was killed in an icy Ottawa parking garage while an impaired Tobin spun doughnuts in a pickup truck.

You knew it was going to happen the moment Tobin got parole: Internet comment sites across the country began to fill with comments, many of them suggesting that Jack Tobin, 26, got some kind of special deal.

It’s a very easy charge to make, especially from behind the comfortable anonymity of an online comment.

And people are welcome to their opinions — but at the same time, people can be wrong.

Tobin’s sentence — and the amount of time he served before parole — did not represent preferential treatment at all. Both were directly in the middle of the range of sentences handed out for such offences. The sentence was based on the analysis of penalties other drivers received in the past for similar crimes, and parole after serving one-third of a sentence is absolutely standard in this country.

It’s hard to say just what it is that motivates people to suggest the sentence was anything out of line, simply because of Tobin’s family and in the absence of any facts to support their argument.

It is true that the well-off can get different treatment in our justice system, in part because they can afford to get the most skilled — and commensurately expensive — legal help available.

But beyond that, this is not a case that smacks of special treatment in any way.

One thing’s for certain: Jack Tobin has probably been publicly shamed more than any young man in a similar position would be.

When he received day parole — on the same sort of terms as any other first offender — it was national news. Now that he has received full parole, it’s national news all over again. Few other Canadians face the same scrutiny — certainly, they don’t face the sort of public examination that Tobin has at every stage of his charges, guilty plea and conviction.

There are very few convicted drivers who face headlines when they are released on parole. Even a seasoned court reporter would be hard put to point out the last such story.

There’s no easy answer for the cold hard facts of the case: Jack Tobin will get a chance to live his life, while Alex Zolpis will not.

If people have a problem with how Tobin was treated, then they have a problem not with his treatment, but with the law itself — and if there is widespread disapproval, it is that law that should be dealt with differently.

Jack Tobin gets to live with the fact that he killed a good friend as a result of drunken foolishness.

Anyone who thinks that is something easily forgotten or glossed over is hard-hearted indeed.