A former firefighter for the City of Greater Sudbury pleaded guilty this week to counselling someone to commit an offence and for possession of a weapon.
The man, who Sudbury.com will not name as one of the teens involved in the fight is his daughter, appeared in person at the Sudbury Courthouse on Aug. 24 for sentencing submissions. He was charged last year after a video was posted to social media in July 2020 showing him coaching a pre-teen girl in a fight against another girl at a skate park in Hanmer.
His employment was terminated as a result of the charges.
Assistant Crown attorney Lindsey Santerre is seeking a six-month conditional sentence, followed by 24 months of probation, a 10-year weapons ban and a DNA order.
Defence lawyer Danielle Vincent is seeking a conditional discharge, meaning the man would have no criminal record as a result.
Sentencing has been reserved, and the matter returns to court Sept. 1 to set a date for sentencing.
The minute-long video at the centre of the case shows the man encouraging one of the girls to beat up another 12-year-old girl. He showed up at the park with a tire iron, which he eventually put back in his vehicle.
During submissions, Vincent said her client had the tire iron because he believed someone at the park had a knife. When he figured out there wasn’t a knife, he put the tire iron back in his vehicle. However, he told the other kids at the park that no one was to interfere with the fight.
The man said he has been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder from his decades-long firefighting career, however it was only in the past several years he was diagnosed. He said he had attended anger management counselling sessions where he was told he didn’t have anger management issues. He was, however, told that he had impulse control issues, which he later discovered is one of the main symptoms of PTSD.
“I was always wondering what was wrong with me, and they wanted me to get help,” he said. “Things finally started to unravel, and I finally started to find out what was wrong with me. It is a very scary and lonely place to be. I had a big circle of friends and family, but I still felt very lonely, very isolated. It has brought me to suicidal thoughts more than once. No one will fully understand how much this mental illness can hold over you until you have lived it.”
He started receiving treatment for his PTSD, and just when he started to see improvements, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he said.
“This was terrifying, watching and feeling myself spiral back downwards in front of my wife and kids, and it felt like nothing more than a nightmare.”
He said following the events at the skate park in July 2020, he felt guilt and shame immediately, and knew there was something clearly wrong with him.
“This was unquestioningly out of character for me,” he said. “I lost control, and I have never been more ashamed and sorry for my actions in my entire life. This illness had a grip on me I thought I could never shake.”
He said he knows coaching such an act was “chilling” and “disgusting” and is something the two youths will have to live with the rest of their lives.
“That man in that video who performed those monstrous acts is, believe it or not, a good, law-abiding citizen who wants the best for everyone.”
Vincent called the events leading up to the fight the “perfect storm.” This was a man who was seeking help for his mental illness. He had been making progress, but was off work. Then, the pandemic hit, which put his treatments on hold.
“He is already holding himself accountable, and what the court should be focusing on is continuing his rehabilitation and making sure he continues on the path he has carved out by himself, without being ordered by anyone to do so,” she said.
Vincent said she acknowledges that this is a serious offence, but that does not preclude the court from imposing a conditional discharge.
“Those who have reacted to the social media post do not know that, at that time, (this man) was suffering from mental health issues he was attempting to address, but were triggered on that day by the events that started with (a) phone call.
“People also don’t know that, since then, he has gone to great lengths to address those issues. He has a significant level of remorse for what he did on that day.”
Vincent said her client has a history of volunteering in the community, and the community has benefited from his efforts. With a conditional discharge, it would allow him to continue his work in the community.
She said her client has led an exemplary life, but stumbled when he hit a roadblock most people will never experience or understand.
“He immediately took responsibility by addressing the problem, and has gone above and beyond in doing everything he can to correct his error,” she said. “Our system is founded on the premise that people are redeemable, and that is why rehabilitation is one of the most important factors in dealing with first-time offenders. This system gives people second chances, especially when they are earned.”
Assistant Crown attorney Santerre said the public outrage about the video posted to social media should add teeth to the man’s sentencing. The video garnered 325 reactions on Facebook, 964 comments and 987 shares.
Santerre said the Crown’s office was originally seeking a term of custody, however, given the man’s “commendable” proactive and prosocial steps he has taken, the Crown is confident a conditional sentence is appropriate.
“This is a grown man counselling 12-year-old girls,” Santerre said.
In the video, he can be heard telling young bystanders that the young girl being beat up “wanted this.”
The now 13-year-old girl who was beat up said in her victim impact statement that she now has a difficult time trusting adults and parents. She said she was always taught adults and parents were able to help resolve problems, not make them worse.
“I still wonder to this day if things would have gone differently if he had taken a moment to hear my side of the story. I have had to deal with people making false accusations about me, that I am a bully who came from a bad home. This has affected my self-esteem, and I did not leave my house for a long time. I’m not a bully, and I have a great home and family.”
No child should be subjected to this kind of conduct, especially from an adult, said Santerre. Firefighters are held to a higher standard, Santerre said. They are people who protect the public, who save lives, and here is a firefighter counselling violence against children.