No jail time for North Okanagan senior guilty of multiple arsons - InfoNews

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No jail time for North Okanagan senior guilty of multiple arsons

Image Credit: Cliff MacArthur/provincialcourt.bc.ca
June 30, 2020 - 4:20 PM

An Armstrong senior who set fire to multiple properties in her neighbourhood was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and will not go to jail.

At the Vernon courthouse today, June 30, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Dev Dley said sending Colette Leneveu to prison "would not advance the public interest."

Dley said while Leneveu's four guilty convictions for arson would ordinarily guarantee her a minimum of nine months jail, there were "exceptional circumstances" in her case.

The 61-year-old had tears in her eyes and paused to compose herself as she spoke to the courtroom and apologized to the people of Armstrong for what she had done. Somewhat unusually, Leneveu spoke to the court for more than five minutes.

Leneveu's lawyer, Glenn Verdurmen described the case as "an unusual matter" with "bizarre occurrences."

The court heard how Leneveu started seven fires over a period of four days in March 2018. The 61-year-old used wax fire logs to start the fires in the early hours of the morning on and around the quiet Armstrong street where she lived. The fires were largely started near a properties adjacent garage. One fire spread into the roof of the property. While no one was hurt during the fires several of them caused considerable damage. At one point Leneveu returned to the same property the following night to start another fire.

The court heard how one neighbour "woke up to the sound of crackling," got out of bed and saw flames 50 to 60 feet high.

The series of suspicious fires over the few days in the small North Okanagan town received significant media attention and Leneveu herself even told a Global News reporter the person responsible needed help.

The court heard how Leneveu had lit one fire at a property across the road from her home and then called 911. On another occasion, she had purposely driven away slowly from a fire, so she could be identified and someone could take her licence plate number.

The fires caused considerable damage to properties and vehicles, no dollar amount was given in court.

While Leneveu was originally a witness in the case, she became a suspect after witnesses identified her and police found melted wax in her clothing. The same wax had melted off the siding of one of the buildings she set fire to.

She was arrested four days after the first fire on March 12, 2018, and charged with seven counts of arson. She pleaded guilty to four amended charges of arson in January.

The vast majority of the court proceedings centred around Leneveu's mental health.

"Before the fires were lit I understood that I was extremely upset but that is all I understood," she told the court. "I did not understand I was mentally unwell."

The court heard how Leneveu had been married for 36 years and had two children. She’d had had various jobs over the years, and once been a reporter for a small town newspaper. She'd lived in Armstrong for 25 years and she and her husband had run an antique store before they separated.

At the time of the fires, the 61-year-old had PTSD, anxiety and depression. The court how she had been sexually abused by her three uncles and although her parents knew they had not intervened.

The court heard how Leneveu had been receiving counselling and the therapy had brought back memories of her earlier abuse.

"I was awakened to memories I didn't remember I had and they were very frightening, most of these memories would occur when I was asleep, and I would wake up in panic and terror," she said. "I lit (one) fire because I had a very real vision of past abusers being in my home and coming very close to my person."

Leneveu told the court sitting around a campfire had always been a happy place for her.

The court heard how she now lived with her mother and received counselling. She had sold her house and had $80,000 which she planned to use as compensation as one or more of the victim's insurance companies had said they would sue her.

Crown prosecutor Laura McPheeters said she would ordinarily be looking for a 12- to 18-month sentence, but in a joint submission with the defence, she requested no jail time and three years strict probation.

Justice Devy agreed and ordered Leneveu to pay $500 to each victim to cover their insurance deductibles.

"I so very much apologize to the court and to the people of Armstrong for all the distress I have caused," Leneveu said.


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