Police arrest squatters at Rutherford Elementary School in October 2018. (News Bulletin file)

Protesters involved in ‘Schoolhouse Squat’ receive conditional discharge

Mercedes Courtoreille and Christopher Thompson sentenced Wednesday in Nanaimo

Two of the activists arrested during the ‘Schoolhouse Squat’ at Rutherford Elementary School two years ago received a conditional discharge today in provincial court in Nanaimo.

Mercedes Talyssa Lynn Courtoreille, 24, and Christopher Peter Thompson, 35, were both facing charges of mischief and breaking and entering with intent to commit an offence and pleaded guilty to mischief in a joint submission from Ken Paziuk, Crown counsel, and Anthony Mattila, defence counsel.

The conditional discharge means that although they were found guilty, they won’t have a criminal record if they meet the terms of their probation.

Judge Brian Harvey sentenced Thompson and Courtoreille to 12 months probation and ordered both to pay $1,000 each in restitution to Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district. They will also be required to complete 50 hours each of community service within the first nine months and will be forbidden from being within 50 metres of Rutherford school.

In his submission, Mattila told the court that both Courtoreille and Thompson had no previous criminal record and were unlikely to re-offend. Both acknowledge the damage done and are remorseful, according to Mattila, and they took part in the occupation out of empathy and concern about homelessness.

The two have limited ability to pay for the damage, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but are willing to pay restitution as per the sentence, Mattila said, and the fact that both were held by gunpoint and arrested and threatened by people in the community will serve as deterrence.

The Schoolhouse Squat, Oct. 5-6, 2018, saw members of a group called Alliance Against Displacement and residents and supporters of Discontent City homeless camp break into the closed elementary school to bring attention to affordable housing issues. More than 20 people were arrested and related security and cleanup costs tallied $72,000.

Paziuk said he was satisfied with the ruling.

“I think it was the right sentence on these circumstances for these two accused, taking into account all their circumstances and their means,” Paziuk said.

Mattila, Courtoreille and Thompson declined comment after sentencing.

Scott Saywell, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ CEO and superintendent, was grateful for the efforts in the case.

“We thank Crown and RCMP for their work on this matter and respect the decision of the court,” Saywell said in an e-mail. “The district has no plans on seeking any litigation.”

The breaking and entering charges were dropped by Crown.

RELATED: RCMP arrest 26 squatters at Rutherford school

RELATED: Final Schoolhouse Squat repair bill comes in at $72,000


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