Alberni arsonist loses appeal for conditional sentence

The B.C. Court of Appeal has denied an application for a conditional sentence from the Alberni man who went on an arson spree in 2010.

The B.C. Court of Appeal has denied an application for a conditional sentence from the Port Alberni man who went on an arson spree in 2010.

Ryan Justin Cootes, 24, was convicted last year of three counts of arson and sentenced to 18 months in prison in Port Alberni provincial court.

In a 2-1 vote, the appeal judges reduced his sentence from 18-months to 12 months because Cootes had no previous criminal record and because he is a First Nations offender, court documents show.

The offense was Cootes’ first. He’d grasped the seriousness of his actions and was remorseful, the judgment noted. As well, Cootes displayed no predilection for starting fires, nor were they targeted. The 18-month sentence was therefore too long, according to the judgment.

The judgment further noted, however, that the sentencing judge failed to give more significance to Cootes’ aboriginal background and exercise the option of a conditional sentence. “I proceed on the basis that it is available. Whether it is appropriate is another matter,” the sentencing judge noted.

According to Section 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code, special attention must be given to an offender’s aboriginal status when a sentence is rendered.

The conditional sentence option was open to the judge, but so too was the weight that had to be given to community safety. The court couldn’t accept that the stressors that caused Cootes to snap that August morning were behind him, therefore Cootes could, if placed on a conditional sentence, be a danger to the community, the judgment noted.

Justice Smith, however, dissented, saying that the sentence was unfit. A conditional sentence, with appropriate conditions, could have achieved as much as a prison sentence, therefore she’d have rendered one, she noted.

All three judges agreed that the probation, restitution and submitting a DNA sample orders rendered by the trial judge stand.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com