A judge has denied a request to have a man awaiting trial for a dangerous driving incident at Country Club Centre in January released on bail while he awaits trial. (File photo)

Judge rules against COVID-19-based release for Nanaimo dangerous driving suspect

Joshua Schaeffer hit vehicles and buildings with a pickup at Country Club Centre in January

The man accused of smashing a truck into buildings and other vehicles at a Nanaimo mall earlier this year will remain in custody despite concerns over the possible spread of coronavirus in prison.

The ruling, regarding an appeal asking for Joshua Tyler Schaeffer to be released on bail made by his defence lawyer Bert King, was handed down in a hearing by teleconference by Judge Lisa Mrozinski on April 7. The written judgment was published this week.

According to the judgment, King asked that Schaeffer be released on $10,000 bail with the requirement Schaeffer be placed under house arrest, with an exception for work, and that he be prohibited from operating a motor vehicle.

Schaeffer is in custody while he awaits trial for a dangerous driving incident at Country Club Centre on Jan. 6, when he allegedly rammed vehicles and buildings with a pickup truck.

Mrozinski denied the request for Schaeffer’s release, citing his prior record, which includes an incident in June 2018 when he was charged for allegedly driving dangerously and leaving the scene of an accident. Schaeffer was scheduled to appear in court to face those charges two days after the Country Club Centre incident. Schaeffer was also sentenced to two years’ incarceration for dangerous operation of a motor vehicle in Alberta in 2008.

“There is no question that your potential release raises serious public safety concerns,” Mrozinski said. “As Mr. King posits, there could be no circumstances where you could be trusted to operate a motor vehicle. At the same time, it is not difficult for someone to assume the operation of a motor vehicle, no matter what bail conditions a court imposes. Here, given your record, the circumstances of the offences you are charged with, and the background circumstances in which they are said to have been committed, your release into the community gives rise to a clear and present danger to the public.”

Mrozinski also said, given the seriousness of Schaeffer’s alleged offences and prior convictions as well as issues in his personal life, his detention is necessary to maintain confidence in the justice system.

“In my view, an informed member of the public, having notice of all the circumstances of this case, would think little of the administration of justice were they to find you out and about in the community,” she said.

As for keeping Schaeffer in custody in the midst of a COVID-19 epidemic, Mrozinski cited a letter from the assistant deputy minister of corrections to the chief judges of the courts in B.C. The letter, dated April 6, addressed the steps taken to protect people who have been in custody for some time against the spread of the coronavirus, which include isolating new detainees from the general population, reducing interaction with inmates and people outside the institution and enhancing controls to prevent infection.

“In this case, there are no health concerns that I am aware of, Mr. Schaeffer, that puts you in the high-risk category, were you to become infected with the virus,” Mrozinski said. “At present, all steps that can be taken to protect you inside the institution are being taken. Clearly, if someone in the institution should become infected despite these steps, the matter can and should be revisited. In the interim, I find the Crown has shown just cause.”

Schaeffer’s next day in provincial court in Nanaimo is July 8.

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