Arsonist’s sentencing delayed yet again

Sydney Leer has been up for at least six sentencing hearings since pleading guilty to torching a fourplex

Penticton firefighters inspect the townhouse unit at Cascade Gardens which Leer pleaded guilty to burning. File photo

Sentencing for a teenager who set ablaze a fourplex last fall has been pushed back yet again, as the quality of a federal mental health program is called into question.

Sydney Leer pleaded guilty to arson for setting a fourplex she lived in with her mother on fire in mid-October, but sentencing still hasn’t come down, with questions of her mental state looming.

Most recently, Leer appeared in court by video Wednesday morning for a scheduled sentencing hearing, which was put off for a couple of reasons.

Related: Mom of accused arsonist angry with doctor who discharged her

Brief moments of speech from Leer was slurred and, according to recently acquired defence lawyer James Pennington, she appeared heavily medicated.

“She’s not making a lot of sense, and I don’t know how much she’s comprehending,” Pennington said. “That in itself would be enough to prompt me to seek an adjournment of today’s proceedings.”

A psychiatric assessment was called for early on in the process and was expected in time for a January court hearing, but that was put over until February when the report was late coming back. That hearing, too, was pushed back, with all parties involved at the time expressing concern for the setbacks.

Leer’s report returned in late February, with a hearing in early March, and Leer was found to be fit for trial. She was also diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and was described as displaying impulsive, aggressive and borderline psychotic behaviour.

However, that sentencing hearing, too, was halted as Leer called for a new lawyer in the middle of proceedings. Norm Yates applied to be removed from the case in early May, citing a lack of confidence from Leer.

It was the issue of mental health, again, that was brought up in Wednesday’s hearing, with Pennington calling into question the quality of mental health programming in the federal system.

“We encountered this a couple of years back,” Pennington said, citing a dangerous offender hearing. “Suffice to say that we heard about the new program … in the federal corrections system. The witness who testified from the system was less than persuasive, and the program is also the subject of some adverse commentary.”

Pennington said there have been a number of issues that he has heard about the federal program for mental health issues in corrections, including a lack of psychiatric professionals.

“Quite frankly, if that’s the case, I really wonder and worry about what kind of treatment she will be getting,” Pennington said.

On that matter, Pennington said he’s looking to get some expert testimony on the issue of federal and provincial programming.

Crown counsel is looking for up to five years in jail over the incident, which incurred more than $1.1 million in damage.

Lawyers will return to the courts on June 13 to fix a date for their next hearing.

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