Conditional sentence for Wagamese includes six months house arrest

He may be a skilled writer but a Kamloops author who has repeatedly committed "terribly dangerous crimes" against society must be judged the same as everyone else, a judge said Monday.

Provincial court judge Stella Frame noted Richard Wagamese, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to three drunk driving offences, has done much to distinguish himself in this community.

The Crown asked the court to jail Wagamese, 56, for 11 months, while defence lawyer Michelle Stanford asked for a conditional sentence. The judge decided an 18-month conditional sentence with house arrest is the right penalty.

Frame noted Wagamese is an award-winning author who works hard to help others who have been victimized by the native residential school system. He also speaks about trauma, substance abuse and homelessness.

His background must also be considered, the judge said. Wagamese suffered serious abuse and neglect as a child, was put into foster care and ravaged himself from a young age with drugs and alcohol.

Against that, however, must be weighed a lengthy criminal record with more than 50 offences dating back to the 1970s, Frame said. Most recently, he was caught driving drunk three times in two weeks. He has ignored several court orders.

Wagamese must be judged the same as everyone, she said.

"In this court, (Wagamese) can be no more than any other man being sentenced for serious offences with very aggravating circumstances. He is entitled to no greater liberty that someone less public.

"He is also entitled to no harsher standard of sentencing merely because he is so public. He must be sentenced as a similar person in similar circumstances having committed similar offences," said Frame.

In the end, she concluded justice, the community and Wagamese are best served by imposing the conditional sentence with terms requiring him to stay away from alcohol, serve six months of house arrest and perform 50 hours of community service work. He is also banned from driving for 10 years.

Such a sentence will allow him to continue helping others while providing assurances he will stay on the rehabilitative road to recovery, which will ultimately be society's best protection.

Wagamese hugged friends and family outside the courtroom, who seemed plainly relieved he would not go to jail. Outside the courtroom, he said he was prepared to go to prison had the court required, but is grateful he will not have to.

"I recognize I had a moral obligation . . . to face the consequences, whatever they might have been. It feels a very great relief that I will be able to continue trying to help people understand the nature of post-traumatic stress disorder (and) substance abuse," he said.

He said he has made a "sacred commitment" to himself and his family to continue on the path of sobriety and recovery he found months ago, after the most recent crimes.

"My new start started the day I was sober, and I realized what I had done. (The conditional sentence) will be a continuation of (the recovery) I have been doing until now."

Wagamese was charged March 1 after he crashed his truck just past 11 a.m. on the frontage road near the fire hall in Valleyview. Tests later pegged his blood-alcohol limit at nearly three times the legal limit.

Five days later, Wagamese was found sitting incoherently in the cab of his truck in the ditch off of Paul Lake Road. Police found several opened bottles of liquor or coolers inside the cab. His blood-alcohol level was measured at .300.

Then, in Calgary March 15, officers found him in his truck, clearly intoxicated. His blood-alcohol level topped .315.

His lawyer said the man was in a dissociative state at the time, as a result of post-traumatic stress.

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