A Greater Victoria man who threatened social workers and smashed through two locked glass doors with a sledgehammer at the Aboriginal Child and Family Services Office has been sentenced to one year in jail followed by three years of probation.
The man, who cannot be identified because of his child’s involvement with the ministry, pleaded guilty to uttering threats, having a sledgehammer for a dangerous purpose and committing mischief by smashing windows and a doorway at the Esquimalt Road office on May 3.
The violent incident was the culmination of the offender’s own history with the ministry and their intrusion into his parenting arrangement with his son, provincial court Judge Lisa Mrozinski said in a review of the case.
“The difficulty is that social workers have to be able to do their job, to perform their statutory duties free from retribution or attack. They work in an environment that’s fraught with emotion. They are particularly vulnerable, yet they are also tasked with the safety of the most vulnerable among us, that is children who may well have suffered abuse or neglect,” she said.
Mrozinski gave the man, who has been in custody since May 4, credit for eight-and-a half months in custody. He must serve a further 111 days in jail.
Crown prosecutor Mark Feldthusen told the court that the man had a shared custody agreement under the Family Law Act with the mother of his child. In April, a social worker received information that the man had assaulted his child. He forwarded the information to police and contacted the man to see if he would cooperate with a safety plan to forgo his authorized access and agree to supervised visits.
The man refused and was hostile, abusive and uncooperative with the ministry, said Feldthusen. On May 3, he left a threatening voicemail for the social worker, saying he would cause him “serious [expletive] problems.”
On May 4, the man went to pick up the child from the mother’s home in accordance with their shared custody agreement, said Feldthusen. But the mother had been in touch with the ministry and refused to hand the child over.
The man called 911 and police arrived. When they learned what was going on, they told him to leave without the child, said Feldthusen. Shortly after, the man received a text from the ministry notifying him that they would be bringing an urgent court application at 2 p.m. to change his custody agreement to supervised visits only.
The man sent a series of text messages to the ministry, including one which said: “The blood is on your hands. I ain’t scared of cops or jail. You better hope you never see me. I will destroy you.”
At 11:20 a.m., two police officers went to the ministry office to meet the man in person and assess the threat. One of the officers advised staff to lock down the building, said Feldthusen.
At 11:45 a.m., the man, dressed as a construction worker with an orange hardhat, coverall and carrying a sledgehammer, arrived at the office.
“He immediately started smashing through the glass entry doors that had been locked before his arrival and entered through those doors. He then walked into the lobby where he began swinging the sledgehammer at the plexiglass windows that lead from the lobby into a secure internal area,” said Feldthusen.
Ministry staff and their clients were extremely frightened. The team leader quickly brought between 20 and 30 people, including a small child into a secure file room.
The police officers heard screaming and went to the lobby where the man was still swinging the sledgehammer. They called for backup and drew their weapons, but the man continued striking the windows, said Feldthusen. He eventually walked away and was arrested.
A psychiatric report prepared for sentencing shows the man suffered a brain injury as a teenager which makes it hard for him to manage his anger and impulse control, said the prosecutor. The man is an Indigenous person who experienced a difficult childhood marked by instability, violence and trauma and a complete disconnect with his culture, said Feldthusen.
The man has been assessed as at high risk for future general and violent reoffending and moderate to high risk for intimate partner violence, which is of considerable concern to the Crown, Feldthusen said. If he feels his concerns about seeing his child or his concerns about his child’s safety are not being heard, he could re-offend, the prosecutor said. “This is almost certainly going to be the case upon his release. There will be restrictions on access and we know that he is going to face considerable stress and difficulty coping.”
The man’s lack of insight into the trauma he caused is an aggravating factor, said Feldthusen.
“This was terrifying for the victims. Those people were in a place where they deserved to feel safe. They were doing difficult work and they were just doing their job.”
Two employees have never returned to their work. Many are fearful of the man’s release from jail, said Feldthusen, who called the incident “unprecedented in this province.”
The prosecutor asked for three sentences of 18 to 24 months to be served concurrently. Defence lawyer Tom Morino urged the court to impose a sentence of time served. His client was unaware there were other people in the building and has reached out for help with his anger issues, said Morino. “He’s trying to come to grips with what happened over the course of his life, culminating in acting the way he did.”
Mrozinski acknowledged the man’s difficult childhood. He was was taken into ministry care at age two. His mother was murdered when he was four and the killer was never brought to justice. He was adopted and abused by his foster father and abused at school, she said.
“Even acknowledging your life experience and unresolved trauma … there’s nothing, in my view, in your personal history that can justify threatening social workers, let alone smashing into the office,” the judge said.
During his probation, the man must have no contact with two named ministry employees. He must have no contact with other staff except through email, text or legal counsel. He must not go to the ministry office unless he has written permission from the ministry.
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