By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on December 21, 2023.
A 51-year-old southern Alberta man who went on a crime spree earlier this year, is a menace to society, a judge said Wednesday.
Justice Gregory Maxwell made the comment after Peter Conrad Bissonette pleaded guilty in Lethbridge court of justice to nearly a dozen criminal offences, primarily business thefts occurring around southern Alberta between August and October.
Maxwell agreed with a recommendation by the Crown and defence for a seven-month jail sentence, but did so hesitantly given the offences and Bissonette’s lengthy criminal record.
“We’re not talking about simple thefts, we’re talking about sophisticated, thought-out thefts, often that require some preparation in bringing tools,” Maxwell said.
“The reality is, Mr. Bissonette represents a menace to society and these commercial businesses, and we’re not talking about insignificant thefts. Multiple thefts over a thousand dollars in total value, none of which is recovered and none of which will ever be recovered because he’s in a situation where we couldn’t order restitution if we wanted to.”
Bissonette pleaded guilty to eight counts of theft under $5,000, and single counts of driving without a licence, failing to comply with a release order, and flight from police. And even though he received a seven-month jail sentence, he was credited for the equivalent of 62 days spent in remand custody, leaving him with about five months to serve.
The flight charge stems from an incident about 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 31, 2022 when Bissonette drove past a police officer, who recognized him and knew he had previous issues with his licence. The officer attempted a traffic stop, but Bissonette continued driving and refused to stop.
“The officer, at that point, deactivated his emergency equipment,” Crown Prosecutor Bob Morrison said. “It seemed clear to him that Mr. Bissonette was not going to stop, and rather than escalate the situation, he simply sought him out another time.”
August of this year marked the start of Bissonette’s crime spree in which he committed numerous thefts. The first was at Walmart on the southside where he was seen trying to break into a locked ammunition cabinet. He then went to the hardware section, grabbed a pair of wire cutters, and in another section of the store cut the cable lock off an electric bike and left with it through a fire exit.
The following month, on Sept. 23, Bissonette was at Shoppers Drug Mart with another individual and stole a $500 camera by placing it in a duffel bag and leaving the store. Barely a week later he returned to the store and stole another camera.
On Sept. 30 a woman told Taber police that her electric scooter had been stolen from the IGA parking lot where it was locked while she worked at the store. Video surveillance footage showed a vehicle parking near the scooter, and the driver cutting the lock before putting the scooter into the vehicle and driving away.
The video footage was circulated among police, many of whom recognized Bissonette and he was arrested a week later.
“He was placed under arrest on Oct. 7 and interviewed, and indicated in his…statement that he didn’t remember anything,” Morrison said. “When he was shown the screen shots from the security video he did acknowledge that that was him shown in the video images.”
At the time of the incident he was on a release order prohibiting him from being behind the steering wheel of any motor vehicle, and he did not have a valid drivers’ licence.
Bissonette was also seen stealing a $350 drill set from Raymond Home Hardware on Oct. 4. Staff didn’t realize the drill was missing until Oct. 11 when they opened up a box and the drill was missing. Bissonette was seen on video using a screwdriver to open the package then place the items under his clothing.
Bissonette was again identified on surveillance video with another individual stealing boots, shirts and a pair of jeans from Marks Work Warehouse in Taber on Oct. 10.
“They put the items on then put their old clothes and other clothing over top of them and walked out of the store,” Morrison said.
Three days earlier RCMP were notified of a theft from Walmart in Brooks after staff noticed some video game consoles missing. A review of the store’s security video footage showed Bissonette in the store the day before removing the back panel of a display case and grabbing two Playstation 5 consoles, an Xbox console and accessories, worth about $2,000.
Video footage also showed Bissonette driving away in a white Cadillac, and the next day, while police were dealing with Bissonette on an unrelated matter, he was still driving the Cadillac.
The last theft occurred on Oct. 27 at Wine and Beyond in Lethbridge when Bissonette, who was again caught on video, grabbed two bottles of alcohol, hid them in his clothing and left the store without paying.
Lethbridge lawyer Claudia Connolly told court Bissonette, who has a lengthy and related criminal record that goes back more than two decades, struggles with substance and other difficulties, and although he was doing better at one point, “he fell deeply back into his old ways” while his common law spouse struggled with cancer.
“So, not an excuse, but it does explain a little bit of the circumstances surrounding what happened,” Connolly said.
She admitted that while the recommended sentence of seven months is on the low end of the sentencing range, it takes into consideration Bissonette’s personal circumstances and that of “the people around him.”
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