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Student who brought handgun to BCHS sentenced

The former Bonnyville Centralized High School (BCHS) student charged with bringing a gun to school has been sentenced.
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The former Bonnyville Centralized High School (BCHS) student charged with bringing a gun to school has been sentenced.

The 17-year-old will be serving 12 months probation and a two-year weapons prohibition after pleading guilty in May to possession of a prohibited weapon with ammunition readily available and carrying a concealed weapon.

On Thursday, Oct. 25, the youth, who can't be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, appeared for sentencing in the Bonnyville Provincial Courthouse after several adjournments for the completion and review of a pre-sentence report and facts assessment.

The charges relate to an incident that took place on March 12, when the student brought a gun to school. Police were notified the following morning, when the principal contacted the Bonnyville RCMP.

According to the youth's defence counsel, Jana Fleming, he had no intention of hurting himself or another student. It was simply a "cry for help."

The student had been suffering from depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies due to bullying, relationship issues, and at home factors.

"He didn't have a target, he never intended to hurt anyone or himself," she described, adding it was more "attention seeking" than anything.

The weapon and ammunition didn't leave his backpack at any point. Students were only made aware of it after he told friends about it.

Crown prosecutor Terry Mazerolle described the incident as "every parent's worst nightmare."

Regardless of motivation, he said "this wasn't a small pistol, this was a powerful weapon."

The weapon was a .44 Ruger handgun, and although it was kept in a separate pocket of the backpack from the ammunition, the youth didn't have the proper licensing to carry it.

The mother of a BCHS student appeared in court to read her victim impact statement.

In it, she described being angry, worried, and anxious.

"I'm an emotional mess," she detailed. "I'm living in fear of my son not coming home... I'm fearful for my son."

The accused turned to the victim, "I apologize for what I did. I didn't mean any harm."

The gun belonged to the accused's grandfather, and was kept in a locked gun safe. The youth had access to the keys because his own pellet gun was stored inside.

Fleming said at the time of the incident, her client "didn't appreciate" the seriousness of the offence, but now understands the extent of his actions.

The youth stressed his desire for the community to know the action wasn't in a vengeful manner.

"I'm sorry to the people of Bonnyville."

Since his arrest, he has faced serious backlash from the community, Fleming described.

"He's received threats from strangers on social media," she said, adding the community's fear is valid.

The former student was expelled from BCHS as a result of his actions, and has been taking courses through the outreach program.

Honourable Judge Kathleen Williams described the occurrence as a "very serious set of circumstances."

She said the fact that the gun was kept in his bag, was not used to threaten a student, and that he has family support, no criminal record, and has a more accurate awareness of the seriousness of his actions were mitigating factors.

Williams noted the offence was serious in nature, but didn't feel a period in custody would be suitable.

The facts assessment, which was considered during sentencing, detailed a youth suffering from depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, and an adjustment disorder. The recommendation from the mental health assessors was counselling and therapy.

Agreeing with the joint submission, Williams sentenced the 17-year-old to 12 months probation. He must keep the peace, be of good behaviour, reside with his grandparents unless otherwise approved by probation, take counselling, remain within the province of Alberta unless he has received prior written permission from probation, abstain from the consumption and possession of drugs and alcohol, attend counselling as recommended by his probation officer, have no contact with the victims, and write a letter of apology to the victims, that will first be approved by his probation officer.

He must complete 50 hours of community service within the year.

"Community service hours are very important because you affected the community," expressed Williams.

Williams also sentenced the youth to a two-year weapons prohibition. Any firearms within the residence must be kept with friends or family properly licensed to hold them until the youth moves.

During sentencing, Williams referenced provisions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act that outline four criteria that must be met before a judge can impose a custodial sentence, whether it's a conditional sentence order or time in custody.

While reviewing the case, Williams noted that while these circumstances are serious in nature, this incident didn't meet all of the criteria for a custodial sentence.

The criteria include the young person has committed a violent offence, the young person has failed to comply with non-custodial sentences, the young person has committed an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years and has a history that indicates a pattern of either extrajudicial sanctions or of findings of guilt or of both under this act or the Young Offenders Actin exceptional cases where the young person has committed an indictable offence, the aggravating circumstances of the offence are such that the imposition of a non-custodial sentence would be inconsistent with the purpose and principles set out in section 38 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. 

If he successfully completes probation, the youth will not have a criminal record.

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