New mental health assessment ordered for Penticton woman accused of arson

FILE PHOTO - A fire at four units in the Cascade Gardens townhouse complex in Penticton, Oct. 14, 2016.

PENTICTON - Delays continue to mount in the sentencing of a woman charged with setting fire to a Penticton townhouse complex last year.

Lawyers met in Penticton court today, June 12, to discuss the ongoing case of Sydney Leer, 19, charged with two counts of arson in the Oct. 13 fire that destroyed four units of the Cascade Gardens townhouse complex on Penticton Avenue.

Defence lawyer James Pennington told court his suspicions Leer was heavily medicated during her court appearance last week were unfounded after he’d learned from prison staff she refuses to take medication.

He said prison staff fear the woman is delusional.

“She cannot contact me, as she does not believe that her real name is Sydney Leer. She thinks it’s something else,” Pennington said.

He said prison staff were “having a lot of problems" just coaxing her out of her cell to take a shower.

Pennington said the first time he met with Leer she was lucid, engaged in perfectly normal conversation, but he was concerned about her mental wellbeing after her court appearance on June 7.

Crown prosecutor Kurt Froehlich told court he felt the issue was one of whether or not Leer was mentally fit to stand trial, as opposed to an issue of being not criminally responsible due to mental disorder.

“I think the difficulty is you have before you a psychological report which says Ms. Leer has been diagnosed with a medical condition, a key component of which is manipulative behaviour. The issue is, is this a function of her illness or is it actually a fitness concern,” Froehlich said, adding staff at the correctional centre had serious concerns about Leer’s mental health.

He said after discussing Leer’s case with them, they expressed the opinion it would be beneficial for Leer to undergo a new fitness assessment.

Judge Gregory Koturbash ruled reasonable grounds had been established for Leer to undergo another mental health assessment to see if she was fit to stand trial.

Her case is expected to return to the courts on July 10.


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