Judge says Vernon arsonist's life 'one of the most tragic that I've come across' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Judge says Vernon arsonist's life 'one of the most tragic that I've come across'

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January 14, 2021 - 6:00 AM

A 36-year-old street entrenched Vernon woman who, for revenge, set fire to a dumpster behind Nature's Fare after the store asked her not to panhandle, had the mental age of a 10-year-old child.

At the Vernon courthouse today, Jan. 13, B.C. Provincial Court Judge Jeremy Guild paused to tell "Jane" (not her real name, see editor's note below) that he meant his comments with no disrespect.

"She basically has the intellectual abilities of a 10-year-old," the judge said. "While chronologically she's an adult, intellectually she's not."

While sentencing Jane on one charge of arson, the judge also took the time to acknowledge the horrific childhood the woman, in her mid-30s, had endured.

"It's often said people have a tragic upbringing... (but) (Jane)'s upbringing is certainly one of the most tragic that I've come across," he said. "She's been involved in the sex trade since she was a child."

The court heard how Jane had only ever worked in the sex trade and had spent years living on the street with her late mother who was also a sex trade worker. She had six children fathered largely by different "Johns" in the sex trade.

Appearing by video from custody, dressed in black with a crucifix around her neck, Jane spoke quickly to the judging telling him she was very sorry for what she did and that she wanted to volunteer at the grocery store to make up for it.

The court heard how on April 7, 2020 at roughly 5:30 a.m., after being awake for several days high on drugs, Jane had deliberately set fire to a dumpster of paper recycling behind the Nature's Fare Market grocery store in Vernon.

The court heard that Jane was angry with the store after staff had told her not to panhandle there days earlier.

Staff discovered the fire and called 911 and the fire was quickly extinguished.

"There's nothing to suggest that any lives were at risk or any other property was at risk, it was all contained in the dumpster," the judge said.

Jane was identified from surveillance footage and arrested months later and has since remained in custody. She later pleaded guilty to one charge of arson damaging property.

The court heard how Jane was Aboriginal and her family had links to the Okanagan Indian Band and Splatsin First Nation. Her family had been part of the residential school system. She'd grown up living with her late mother and her aunt, and her aunt had been the main caregiver for both of them.

She'd then ended up living on the streets in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver and worked in the sex trade with her mother from a young age.

Defence lawyer Nicholas Jacob also said his client's background was one of the most tragic he'd ever come across.

She'd been left brain-damaged following a coma caused by an overdose and had been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, as well as schizophrenia, bipolar, and depression. She also had chronic alcohol and drug addictions.

As arson is a notoriously difficult charge to prove, and often only normally proceeds if there is damage to property or lives are put at risk, both Crown and defence lawyers said they struggled to find a similar case to base their sentence submissions on. Arson charges that stem from fires that cause relatively little damage are often downgraded to charges of mischief.

Having spent roughly four-and a-half-months in prison, Jacob asked for a sentence of time served followed by three years probation, as would be normal in an arson case.

However, Jacob said a long probation period would be setting his client up to fail as she was not capable of complying.

The Crown agreed.

"I think what everybody wants is for her to get her life under control," prosecutor Bill Hilderman said.

Ultimately, Judge Guild sentenced Jane to a sentence of time served followed by 12 months probation.

The judge noted that a prohibition on incendiary devices would normally be a condition of the probation, but that this case was different.

"That's not going to work for (Jane)," he said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The identity of subject in this story has been omitted. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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