Crown seeks sentence of two years less a day for Wellington County firebug

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Justin Beal leaves the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Thursday after a sentencing hearing. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday

The Crown attorney is seeking a sentence of two years less a day for the Guelph-Eramosa Township man guilty of setting fire to five abandoned structures in Wellington County in 2016 and 2017.

The lawyer for Justin Beal, 30, proposed a prison term of 18 months.

Justice Bruce Durno will deliver his decision on March 26.

On Thursday, Durno heard submissions from Crown attorney Judith MacDonald and defence counsel Robbie Tsang on what they felt Beal should get for setting the fires and why.

MacDonald asked for two years less a day in prison plus three years probation and an order to pay a total of $45,000 in restitution to a pair of property owners who were each the victim of two of the fires Beal set.

One of those property owners had to pay for the cleanup of the fire damage, the other property owner spent his own time and used his own equipment to clean up the mess left behind.

Beal was 50 minutes late for his sentencing hearing in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Thursday morning.

He originally was charged with seven fires and pleaded guilty to five.

"The offences are aggravated because of the number of fires set by Mr. Beal," MacDonald said.

She said the fires led to a lot of worry and stress in the community.

"It has an impact on an entire community and for over a year that's what residents of Wellington County had to endure."

She submitted five written victim impact statements, including one from James Petrik, the deputy fire chief for Guelph-Eramosa Township.

"There is a significant emotional impact on firefighters that respond to these fires," MacDonald said.

On one occasion firefighters had to enter one of the burning buildings to make sure no one was inside.

MacDonald said Beal showed a "complete lack of disregard for human life" when it came to the firefighters.

Other victims talked of how they had trouble sleeping. One said they feared for their safety while Beal was still walking the streets.

There was not a whole lot of insight into why Beal set the fires, MacDonald said, adding that "I would submit he is not terribly remorseful."

Beal sat beside his lawyer Tsang for the proceeding, declining to speak when asked by the judge if he had anything to say.

Tsang described his client as a simple man who was quick to help others and lived with his mom, who he helped support.

He said Beal has learning disabilities, including "ADD, ADHD and Tourette's syndrome."

Tsang submitted 14 reference letters in support of his client.

The defence lawyer said that while arson is always a serious offence, it was lessened in this case because they were set in abandoned buildings.

"I submit, your honour, that's a key distinguishing feature for Mr. Beal," Tsang said.

"This is a person that has never been to jail. This (18 month recommendation) is quite significant."

Tsang did not contest the probation, other than the Crown-proposed 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, and had no submission on the matter of restitution to victims.

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