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'Major instigator' threw burning wicks into cells during last year's remand centre riot

A judge took into account COVID-19 in his sentence
Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse file photo

A local man, described as "a major instigator" in a fiery January 2019 riot at the Algoma Treatment and Remand Centre that caused $50,000 damage to the facility, has been sentenced to a 17-month jail term.

Jeffrey Leclair, 27, pleaded guilty May 11 in a Sault Ste. Marie courtroom to recklessly causing damage by fire and taking part in a riot.

When Ontario Court Justice Romuald Kwolek imposed sentence on May 28, he took into account a number of factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic that has caused thousands of deaths in Canada.

The court heard the accused was among several inmates – two of whom assaulted another prisoner – intoxicated on home brew when the incident erupted on Jan. 27.

Leclair "appeared to be leading and directing others" as they caused damage to the institution. He threw objects at a module window, kicked in an intercom, lit a wick on fire, and threw it into two cells setting them ablaze.

Leclair, along with another inmate, also started a fire in a day area damaging tables.

Assistant Crown attorney Heidi Mitchell called for 18 months custody, plus two years probation.

Defence counsel Jennifer Tremblay-Hall agreed with the amount of jail time, but suggested with enhanced credits it should be considered time served, followed by the maximum three years probation.

The defence also argued that her client should be granted additional credits above the standard 1.5 days for one day in pre-trial custody because of "harsh conditions" at the jail and COVID-19.

In his decision, Kwolek acknowledged incarcerated individuals face an additional risk from the coronavirus.

But in this case, there was no evidence that Leclair suffers from any pre-existing health conditions that would make him susceptible to the virus, the judge said.

His age puts him in "a demographic with an extremely low risk of serious consequences should he be infected."

Kwolek said as of that date no staff nor inmates had tested positive for the coronavirus.

ATRC has taken measures to reduce the risk to inmates contracting the virus by cutting back and eliminating transfers between institutions, increasing cleaning, and screening those entering the facility.

Kwolek also noted that Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma District had only 20 infections as of May 19.

When he imposed the sentence, Kwolek cited Leclair's lengthy criminal record that indicated he has "spent the majority of his time incarcerated in various penal institutions" since the middle of 2014.

His jail time included 2015 and 2017 convictions for robbery and weapons offences.

Listing the case's aggravating factors, the judge pointed to Leclair's two prior convictions for setting fires at the facility in April and June 2017, his aggressive behaviour towards correctional officers, and actions that put the lives and health of fellow inmates and staff at risk.

The judge called the accused's guilty pleas a significant mitigating factor, noting the court must also consider his Indigenous background and the existence of Gladue factors.

Kwolek described the proposed 18-month jail term as being on the low-end of the sentencing range given the facts and the offender's circumstances.

"For an offender who has a lengthy criminal record; who was the main instigator of the riot; who was lighting fires in the correctional institution, the circumstances of this case could easily justify a period of incarceration in a penitentiary for a period in excess of three years."

He gave Leclair "a short credit" of 30 days for lockdowns that occurred at the facility and reduced services as a result of COVID-19.

Kwolek imposed 17 months for the offences, and with credit for his pre-sentence custody, Leclair will serve a further 188 days behind bars.

Once he does his time, Leclair will be on probation for two years.

The judge also placed him on a life-time weapons prohibition order.

Editor's note: SooToday does not permit comments on court stories.

About the Author: Linda Richardson

Linda Richardson is a freelance journalist who has been covering Sault Ste. Marie's courts and other local news for more than 35 years.
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