An Armstrong woman who pleaded guilty to four counts of arson in the Armstrong area has been sentenced to three years probation with strict conditions including a curfew, restitution payments and prohibited access to flammable, explosive or incendiary devices.
She wiped tears from her face as the details of the 2018 fires were described in the Vernon courthouse Tuesday, June 30, before her afternoon sentencing.
“I so very much apologize to the court and to the people of Armstrong for all the distress that I had caused,” Colette Leneveu, 61, said of the seven house and vehicle fires lit between March 8-12, 2018. “I didn’t understand that I was mentally unwell.”
Charged with seven counts, Leneveu pleaded guilty to four on Jan. 6, 2020. With no previous criminal record, and has been on bail for the last two years, Leneveu has attended more than 30 counselling sessions to deal with her post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Therefore both the Crown and defence sought a suspended sentence and probation for Leneveu.
Leneveu’s probation conditions prevent her from consuming any intoxicating substance including alcohol and marijuana unless prescribed by a medical professional. She is also prohibited from possessing any drug paraphernalia such as a pipe or rolling papers.
A curfew has been ordered for Leneveu’s first year of probation that will see her inside her residence between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Leneveu is not to have in her possession any incendiary, flammable or explosive devices including matches, lighters, fireworks or fire starters outside of her residence, unless permitted by her probation officer.
Leneveu must attend all medical appointments and waive confidentiality so probation officers can ensure she has attended and is following direction from medical and psychiatric professionals. She is to take all prescribed medications as directed.
“She recognizes that she needs ongoing counselling to assist her,” defence lawyer Glenn Verdurmen told the court.
Describing some intense therapy Leneveu was going through at the time of the fires, Verdurmen said his client has an irrational response to something that was buried in her psyche that she was trying to deal with.
“There is no motive, she wasn’t angry at the people of Armstrong or a neighbour.”
Leneveu, who only remembers lighting one fire, said it was a signal she was sending as she ran out of the house in bare feet and a nightgown, in the snow, trying to escape something that wasn’t there.
Leneveu no longer resides in Armstrong and is saddened her actions have made it so she won’t be able to return to the place she called home for 25 years.
She is currently residing with her mother in a gated community and has been subject to regular police visits.
But for the residents of Warner Avenue and Okanagan Street who were victims to the fires, there were many sleepless nights following the incidents.
“I took it as a personal attack on my family,” a victim impact statement read from a man who sat in the courtroom Tuesday and later teared up outside explaining how Leneveu will never have to go through what he did.
Leneveu’s probation conditions will see her apologize to the families and individuals affected by the arson incidents. The manner of said apology will be directed by her probation officer.
She must also pay restitution of $500 to each party involved, the judge ruled. The restitution will be paid within 90 days through the court.
Leneveu is not to make direct contact with any individual or come within 100 metres of the addresses on Warner Avenue and Okanagan Street affected by the 2018 burns.
Emergency crews responded to several suspicious fires in the Armstrong area on March 8, 2018, and found a set of tires had been set on fire near a garage at one home and a back deck of another down the street was also ignited. Both fires were extinguished before extensive damage was done.
While officers responded to those two calls, a man was putting out another fire in his garage. On March 12, four further fires were reported, including two vehicles.
No injuries were reported as a result of any of the fires in question.