A North Okanagan woman will be on probation for three years and is required to pay some restitution after she admitted to lighting four fires on residential properties in Armstrong, B.C., two years ago.
Tuesday’s sentencing hearing revealed more information about what lead up to the fires.
Court heard Colette Leneveu, 61, sparked the fires, in part, as a call for help.
The string of arsons happened in the span of five days in March 2018.
String of suspicious fires in Armstrong
Two fires were lit on one property on back-to-back nights.
The second fire there was the most destructive of the arson spree. It engulfed an attached garage and caused significant damage to the home.
Down the street, Bob Lebarron woke up to a garage full of smoke after a fire was set outside the corner of his garage.
In a victim impact statement Lebarron told the court he was “immediately overcome with shock, panic and fear.”
Lebarron was able to put the fire out himself but said, in his statement, he wondered what the outcome would have been if he hadn’t woken up.
“Until Ms. Leneveu was caught there were sleepless nights. I even spent hours outside in the dark waiting [and] wondering if the person responsible was going to return as they did with my neighbour,” he wrote.
On Tuesday morning, Leneveu’s lawyer told the court she was not targeting anyone with the fires, but rather they started as an irrational call for help while she was experiencing mental distress.
Court heard Leneveu was struggling with her mental health prior to the fires but was receiving professional help and was working through a therapeutic course where she confronted the sexual abuse she was the victim of in childhood.
However, her lawyer said this attempt to address the trauma only lead to her becoming more distressed.
Defence counsel said, at one point, in something of a “dream state” she saw her past abusers and in a panic left her house and set fires as a way to call for help.
Court heard she also called 911 to report one of the fires she later plead guilty to starting.
Woman pleads guilty to 2018 Armstrong arsons
Within days of the first three fires she spoke with a Global News camera crew as a concerned neighbour.
She told the interviewer she was trying to keep calm about the arsons because she was afraid of fire.
Armstrong, B.C. woman enters guilty pleas to string of 2018 arsons
Her lawyer told the court that when she later set other fires she was operating on the skewed logic that this was a way to show the community that the fires were signals for getting herself help.
Leneveu’s lawyer argued her moral culpability for the crime should be diminished because of the mental state she was in at the time of the fires.
She issued a tearful apology in court for her actions.
“I so very much apologize to the court and to the people of Armstrong for all the distress that I have caused. It was not my intent to involve people,” Leneveu said.
Lawyer says Armstrong woman ‘extremely apologetic’ for string of arsons
On Tuesday afternoon, the Justice ultimately ruled that there are exceptional circumstances in this case and sending Leneveu to custody would not advance the public interest.
Instead, he agreed to what’s called a suspended sentence, meaning Leneveu’s formal sentencing for the arsons is technically suspended.
However, she will still serve three years of probation and have a criminal record.
If she breaches her probation terms, Leneveu could be brought back to court to face sentencing for the arsons.
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