NORTH BATTLEFORD – Judge Kevin Hill accepted a joint sentencing submission Friday from the Crown and defence for a man accused of arson in a fire that destroyed an apartment building earlier this year.
Keeanu Crookedneck, 22, was charged with arson with disregard for human life following the Jan. 3 fire of the three-storey, 20-unit apartment building.
“I think it would be a rare day that it would be appropriate for an apartment fire of this magnitude causing this much danger to attract a sentence of only three years,” said Judge Hill. “It is appropriate in your case.”
Judge Hill said the sentence doesn’t signify the breakdown of the proper functioning of the justice system and may well do the opposite, signifying the proper functioning of the justice system.
Crookedneck pleaded guilty and admitted to starting the dumpster fire outside of the apartment building. Court heard that fires were started inside the building and outside in the dumpster.
Crookedneck was given a three-year sentence and with credit for time served he has 689 days left to serve. This means his remaining sentence is under two years so he will go to a provincial jail rather than a federal penitentiary.
Court heard that Crookedneck had a limited criminal record and significant Gladue factors.
Defence Jared Aumiller of Saskatoon said that Crookedneck’s mother was confined to a wheelchair and unable to care for her four children so at a very young age he was sent to a group home on Red Pheasant First Nation whereas his siblings went to live with family.
Aumiller told the court that Crookedneck was physically, emotionally and sexually abused at the group home. He eventually returned home for a brief period. He helped care for his mother and they formed a close bond as she relied on him for help.
He ended up being thrown out of his home on Saulteaux First Nation at about the age of 11-12 after he didn’t get along with his Kokum, said Aumiller. She was a survivor of residential school and had a “tough love mentality,” said Aumiller.
“The effects of Colonialism and inter-generational trauma are still being passed on.”
Living on streets at early age
Crookedneck ended up living on the streets and relied on the goodwill of friends and family. In spite of being homeless, Crookedneck continued to attend school until Grade 10 in North Battleford on his own initiative, Aumiller told the court.
His mother became paralyzed in his later teens and required surgery. Crookedneck got himself to the Saskatoon hospital to be by her side and that’s when he ended up quitting school.
Aumiller said his mother’s surgery was successful and she is now a major support person in his life.
Crookedneck was introduced to drugs when he was living on the streets as a child. He started out with marijuana, then ecstasy and cocaine before developing an addiction to methamphetamine in his late teens.
Aumiller told the court that at the time of the arson, Crookedneck was “in the throws of addiction to meth.”
He added that Crookedneck has been clean and sober since being incarcerated and is much more clearheaded.
“He has a very good head on his shoulders and he’s very pleasant to speak to. If he puts his mind to it and stays away from drugs I’m certain we won’t see him again."
Aumiller said Crookedneck was remorseful, never denied his involvement, and is taking responsibility for his actions.
Crookedneck apologized to the court for his actions.
“I’m sorry for the involvement I had in it. I regret my actions for what I have done.”
Crookedneck also told the court that he hopes they don’t see him again.
Meth alters perceptions: Judge
Judge Hill said meth likely altered Crookedneck's perceptions and attitudes the night of the apartment fire.
“I want you to reflect on how much trouble crystal meth makes for you personally and the community at large."
He added that given the challenges of Crookedneck’s upbringing and the Colonialism present within the system, it is to his credit that he comes before the court with only one minor entry on his criminal record.
“You have had a tough upbringing,” said Judge Hill. “You should have got more caring and understanding in your upbringing than you did. Every child deserves that - and protection - and I sense you didn’t receive your fair share and that’s why you're here.”
Judge Hill encouraged him to continue with sobriety.
“It strikes me you are a bright young man that has the possibility of a strong future with your family but you have to stay away from drugs and alcohol.”
The apartment fire
Battlefords RCMP had received a call about an apartment fire on 102 Street in North Battleford at about 1:25 a.m. on Jan. 3. When they arrived the structure was fully engulfed in flames. Seventeen residents and six emergency responders required medical treatment.
Crown Prosecutor Scott Bartlett told the court that two to four people occupied many of the suites in the building. Numerous residents couldn’t flee through the hallway and exits. They were trapped and had to escape from their balconies by either homemade rope ladders or by fire department ladders. Some residents were forced to jump off of their balconies and sustained injuries.
“Many left with just the clothes on their back and losing all of their personal possessions.”
Bartlett told the court that the apartment building had to be demolished and damage was estimated to be more than $3 million.
Naomi Yellowtail is also charged in connection with the apartment fire. Yellowtail remains in custody at Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert.
Her trial is scheduled to run Feb. 27 to March 2, 2023. The charges against Yellowtail haven't been tested in court.
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