Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for April 13, 2012

Don’t let mistake be a ball and chain: judge

The 12-year-old girl who admitted to helping set last year’s multimillion-dollar fire at the Canada Games Centre has received the same sentence as her teenaged counterpart.

By Ashley Joannou on April 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm

photo

Photo by Whitehorse Star

Pictured Above: JUDGE MICHAEL COZENS

The 12-year-old girl who admitted to helping set last year’s multimillion-dollar fire at the Canada Games Centre has received the same sentence as her teenaged counterpart.

Judge Michael Cozens sentenced the girl, whose name cannot be published, to two years’ probation and 240 community service hours Thursday afternoon.

This is the same sentence her accomplice in the case, a 13-year-old girl, received in February.

Both the probation sentence and the number of community service hours are the maximum length allowed.

The lawyer for the younger girl had argued that his client should receive only a judicial reprimand — a stern warning from the territorial court judge — because of her age.

But Cozens said he was not persuaded that either girl played more of a role in the fire.

The older person is not always the dominant one, Cozens said, adding that much can depend on a person’s personality.

Cozens said judicial reprimands are rarely used in criminal court and are sometimes a sign of a judge trying to tell the lawyers that a case should not have been brought to court.

This is not a case like that, he said.

Both girls have admitted to going to the games centre with an 11-year-old boy on June 24, 2011 and lighting the handles of speed skating mats on fire.

The girls lit one mat and the young boy put it out with his hands.

They then lit a second mat on fire and ran from the building.

The trio passed three fire alarms and multiple adults without telling anyone, the court heard.

The fire ended up causing nearly $7 million in damage and forced the games centre to close for months while crews were brought in to clean up the mess.

Later, when questioned by police as possible witnesses, the pair told investigators they had seen a First Nations woman running from the building and getting into a car.

They discussed the fire and agreed to stick to that story through text messages read in court.

The girls were charged with arson after Whitehorse RCMP viewed surveillance video.

The 12-year-old’s probation terms are also the same as the older girl’s.

She is not allowed to attend the Canada Games Centre without permission and cannot possess incendiary devices, such as a lighter.

The judge also banned her from having a phone, iPod, iPad or any other similar device without an approved adult present.

She has a curfew for the first year, which decreases in length as the sentence progresses.

Cozens said the sentence is appropriate because the girls knew the mats were flammable after already seeing the first one catch fire.

Other aggravating factors were that they ran past fire alarms without alerting anyone and tried to pass the blame on to someone else, he said.

The court heard that the 12-year-old is an introvert with low self-esteem who struggles to communicate with adults.

She sees herself as a bad person following the fire and struggles to name anything positive about herself, the judge said.

She is not involved in sports nor other positive activities.

Her parents divorced when she was very young, and she has been exposed to parental conflict.

She is often disengaged from class but has the ability to achieve any goals for herself if she chooses to, the judge said.

The girl has admitted to beginning to consume alcohol and experimenting with drugs.

Cozens encouraged her to not let this mistake become a “ball and chain” for the rest of her life.

While she is currently banned from the games centre without permission, Cozens said he hoped management might consider permitting her to perform some of her community service there as long as she was not identified.

She had expressed interest in helping with the initial cleanup but was “understandably” not allowed after being charged, the judge said.

Working at the games centre could be a way for her to make amends to the community, he said.

Art Manhire, the centre’s indoor facilities manager, said in an interview staff have not closed the door on that option and have spoken to the girls’ caseworkers.

No final decision has been made as to whether the girls will be invited back, he said.

“We work with all different members of the community and know that not all of us are saints all the time,” he said.

As for the sentences themselves, Manhire said he doesn’t have strong feelings about how the girls were punished.

“It was a tragedy; it’s still a tragedy we are all working through,” he said. “I hope the girls are getting any help they need.”

About 300 groups use the games centre along with about 2,000 people daily.

CommentsAdd a comment

flyingfur

Apr 13, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Personally I hope that CGC allows this young lady into the facility to work off some of her community service hours.  She is a child that made a mistake that had obviously had some dire consequences, but I agree with Judge Cozens in that she made a mistake, it sounds like she’s learning from it, and good luck to her.

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