A 24-year-old Fort Providence man must stop drinking or he will end up in trouble with the law again, a Yellowknife judge said last week.
Richard Lesage was fortunate RCMP officers didn’t use more force on him as he fought them in a dark and snowy yard in Fort Providence in October 2019, NWT Territorial Court Judge Garth Malakoe said on Friday.
“This was an incident where two RCMP officers were simply responding to a call, trying to help a family who had made a complaint against Mr Lesage,” said the judge at the sentencing hearing, terming Lesage’s reaction “over the top.”
“The choices [the constable] had to make that evening, I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” continued Malakoe, stating Lesage was lucky not to have been more seriously injured.
“The fact they were finally able to subdue you with pepper spray should be a lesson to you. There could have been more serious force used.”
Lesage was found guilty after trial of two counts of assaulting a peace officer, one count of resisting arrest, and two breaches of a probation order.
In May, Malakoe ruled one of the arresting officer’s “grabbing and twisting” of Lesage’s genitals was reasonable force in the “unique set of circumstances,” in which both officers received minor injuries, including to their faces.
Malakoe said the procedure did not violate the section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that deals with life, liberty, and security of the person. Both officers were protecting themselves from grievous bodily harm from the intoxicated Lesage, the judge said, and the application of force to his penis and testicles by the male officer was for the purpose of “causing him pain and to get him to comply.”
Defence lawyer Peter Harte had argued his client was, in fact, sexually assaulted by the RCMP officer. Last week, at the sentencing hearing, Harte told the court Lesage had been sexually assaulted by a family member when he was a child, something he revealed for the first time to the author of his pre-sentence report.
Harte asked the judge to include an order for a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder assessment in the sentence – a procedure that has been hard to obtain in the NWT – as the author of a pre-sentence report had suggested Lesage could be suffering from the effects of alcohol consumption by his mother when he was in her womb.
The judge questioned the need for that assessment as the condition hadn’t been picked up by educators while Lesage was in school. Harte said the existence of “peer passing” in the NWT creates an environment where a student’s challenges might not be noticed.
Lesage’s alcohol consumption increased after he discovered his father, Emmanuel Vachon, frozen to death in a tent outside Fort Providence in November 2018, the court heard. The incident was featured in a CBC North investigation, which noted Vachon had been detained for lengthy periods of time in psychiatric wards in Alberta.
Vachon had been released from Stanton Territorial Hospital after treatment for mental health issues but was unable to find public housing in Fort Providence – a community without a homeless shelter – and decided to pitch a tent in the bush.
Lesage had described the experience of finding his father’s body to the CBC. Harte told the court Lesage “has not been unable to get that picture out of his head” and “alcohol is medication for what he has to deal with in his history.”
Harte said Lesage deserved a sentence of 30 days each consecutively for assaulting a peace officer, with the rest of the charges to run concurrently, or at the same time, followed by probation.
Crown prosecutor Travis Weagant asked Malakoe to impose a six-month sentence followed by one year’s supervised probation, to include counselling for alcohol and substance abuse.
“It’s clear that’s an issue Mr Lesage needs to address if he does not want to find himself in these circumstances again,” said Weagant, noting Lesage has a criminal record with a previous conviction for resisting arrest.
“Certainly, because of the work they do, police officers are exposed to a certain level of risk … but that doesn’t mean that when they go home at the end of the day … they go home from work with cuts on their face.”
Malakoe landed in the middle of the two requests, sentencing Lesage to two months for each charge of assaulting a peace officer, one month concurrent for resisting arrest, and 15 days for each probation breach.
Twenty-two days of earned remand credit will be deducted from the four months. That time will be followed by one year of supervised probation, during which Lesage must take counselling as directed, including for substance abuse and anger management. He should also be considered for a residential treatment program.
And Lesage should also be considered for a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder assessment, said Malakoe.
Lesage meanwhile faces unrelated charges of sexual assault and failure to attend court.