Teen who waved gun at Portage and Main has 'done remarkably well' in recovery, court hears

A teenage girl who held a fake gun to her head in the middle of Winnipeg's busiest intersection last year has "done remarkably well" in seeking help and getting her life on track, giving lawyers and the judge who sentenced her hope for her future.

The girl, who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act because she was 17 years old at the time of the incident, received an 18-month conditional sentence on Thursday, after pleading guilty to possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose.

She attracted public attention and concern when she walked into the intersection at Portage Avenue and Main Street July 19, 2016, wearing a white mask and holding what looked like a gun to her head.

Traffic came to a standstill as police carefully approached the girl and arrested her. No one was injured. The gun turned out to be a BB gun that had been painted black, court heard.

On Thursday, provincial court Judge Murray Thompson commended the girl, who is now 18 years old, for acknowledging the severity of her offence and taking action on her mental health issues.

"You've talked about this as a cry for help," Thompson told her in court.

"That's exactly the way I see it, and I'm pleased to see that you got some help, and I hope you understand that everyone here today is hoping that you continue to get the help that you have asked for and need and deserve."

'State of crisis'

Court heard that the girl had a "difficult and challenging past," with mental illness affecting her and most of her immediate family.

Her pre-sentencing report indicated that she had been off her medication and was "in a state of crisis" at the time of the incident, court heard.

Crown attorney Julia Negrea told court the girl followed the Youth Bail Management program for almost eight months, which she described as "an extremely surprising and rare thing" among youth in the criminal justice system.

Negrea said the girl "is obviously committed to doing the right thing, and so that is to be commended."

The Crown stayed charges related to the breach of a bail condition that required her to live with her father.

"Her dad [himself] struggles with mental health conditions as well as some addictions issues, and so my understanding was that basically [she] was put in the position of either feeling safe or following her conditions, and she made the decision to feel safe and ended up with the breach as a result," Negrea told court.

"That's obviously why the Crown stayed that charge, because it was a bit of a rock and a hard place for [her]."

Looking for a home

The girl's lawyer, Hillarie Tasche, said her client is currently looking for a place of her own.

She started going back to high school in February and staff describe her as "very intelligent," said Tasche, who added that her client has even taken a law class.

"Things aren't yet perfect, but she's getting there. She's getting to a really good spot in her life," she told court.

Tasche added that her client has shown regret for what she did as well as personal insight.

"I think that her ability to show regret and remorse is remarkable in light of the challenges that she faced in her upbringing," she told court.

"I'm impressed that she has the inner compass that she has to be able to see which path is the better path for her, given the instability in her upbringing."

The judge ordered the girl to take part in any treatment programs as directed by her probation officer, attend all medical appointments, take her prescribed medication, abstain from illegal drugs, and "make reasonable effort" to seek and maintain employment or go to school.

As well, she has to complete 100 hours of community service, and she is prohibited from possessing or using weapons.

'You got a lot of strength'

Before issuing his sentence, Thompson had some advice for the young woman.

"Be more confident about who you are. You got a lot of strength that you don't recognize," he began.

"When and if you're in a relationship with someone, demand that they treat you with respect. If they don't, they're not worth your time," he added. "So if a person who's close to you does not treat you well, don't waste time, move on until you find something that you deserve, because you deserve better."

Thompson said he noticed in the pre-sentencing report that the girl believes she may have been responsible for some of the problems that arose during her upbringing.

"You weren't to blame. You were a kid, OK? The adults who were supposed to be responsible for you and care for you and that you trusted didn't live up to their end of the bargain. It's not your fault and it's not because of anything that you did. It's because of their own issues," he told her in court.

"You've done remarkably well and I think you have the potential to do very well."