British Columbia

COVID-19 no get-out-jail-free card for accused mail thief with 'deplorable' record

A man accused of stealing a Mercedes-size haul of stolen mail from an Abbotsford, B.C., post office has lost an attempt at making a COVID-19-based bid for bail.

Gary Patrick Richard has a long history of ignoring court orders and fleeing police

Gary Patrick Richard is accused of stealing 420 pieces of mail from a Canada Post location in Abbotsford and then fleeing police. He did not make bail. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

A man accused of stealing a Mercedes-sized haul of mail from an Abbotsford, B.C., post office has lost an attempt at making a COVID-19-based bid for bail.

Citing Gary Patrick Richard's "deplorable" criminal record, Provincial Court Judge Gregory Brown said the coronavirus couldn't be a "get out of jail free card for scofflaws with no apparent regard for the judicial system, police or public safety.

"I have no confidence Mr. Richard will abide by a release order. His past demonstrates poor complicance with court orders," Brown said in remanding Richard to custody pending trial.

"It appears he will do almost anything to avoid arrest."

Tracked to a tractor

The circumstances of the case suggest that while COVID-19 is changing almost every aspect of normal life, the threat of fraud through mail theft remains the same.

Richard and another man are accused of ransacking the storage area of a postal outlet at the end of April. 

Police allegedly found 420 pieces of mail belonging to 268 people in the back of a black Mercedes with a temporary operator's permit. 

A judge at the Abbotsford provincial courthouse refused bail for Gary Patrick Richard, finding that the 38-year-old was too much of a risk to the community. (Christer Waara/CBC)

The investigation began when a witness called 911 to report the car driving slowly along Mount Lehman Road with two hoodie-wearing men inside. A woman in a Jeep was seen nearby, backing into a field and texting.

Police attempted to pull the Mercedes over and the driver fled, speeding through a spike belt at more than three times the 50 km/h limit.

The car was found abandoned a short while later, with the Jeep parked nearby. Police arrested the female driver.

A witness said the two men in the Mercedes had fled into the bushes. A police dog followed the scent of one of them to a nearby farm where Richard was found behind the controls of a tractor.

The farmer told them no one had permission to drive his machine.

Virus doesn't make accused less of risk

Richard was sentenced to more than a year in jail in Penticton in June 2019 for trying to flee police in another incident that saw him drive at high speed through the gate of an RV park, narrowly missing a police officer.

Richard has 14 convictions for property-related offences going back to 2000. He also has at least 13 breaches of court orders and nine convictions involving offences like flight from authorities and dangerous driving.

The 38-year-old is also wanted on an outstanding warrant from Alberta and is also the subject of three ongoing investigations in B.C.

Judges have granted bail to accused in other cases, citing the threat of COVID-19 in custodial settings as a factor to balance against the need to protect the public and the possibility that an accused might not show up for trial.

Richard had a job at a paving company but was laid off because of the coronavirus. A friend offered to put up $2,500 for his release and to secure him employment.

Brown said he didn't want to minimize the health risk in correctional facilities, but said B.C. Corrections has less of a problem than the federal system, where an outbreak involving 133 inmates and staff was threatening Mission Institution.

And at the end of the day, Richard's past behaviour was too serious for the judge to ignore.

"While I am fully aware that a release order is not intended to eliminate all risk, Mr. Richard's danger to the public cannot be reduced to an acceptable level by any bail conditions," Brown said.

"A person does not become less of a risk because of COVID-19."

None of the latest allegations have been proven in court.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.

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