Saskatchewan

Jail ordered for Regina man who refused to wear mask, violently attacked several store employees

A Saskatchewan judge had scathing words and a 120-day jail sentence for a man who refused to wear a mask inside a Co-op store and repeatedly punched multiple employees.

Andrew Edward Russell sentenced to 120 days behind bars, must get anger management counselling

A sign in this file photo advises of mask-wearing requirements. The defence for Andrew Edward Russell, charged with assaulting several people after being told to wear a mask in a Swift Current store, said he was suffering from 'COVID fatigue.' The defence asked for a sentence that could be served in the community, but the judge sentenced Russell to 120 days behind bars. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

A Saskatchewan judge had scathing words and a 120-day jail sentence for a man who refused to wear a mask inside a Co-op store and repeatedly punched multiple employees.

Last month, Swift Current provincial court Judge Karl Bazin sentenced Andrew Edward Russell, 53, to four months behind bars after Russell was convicted of assault causing bodily harm, common assault and uttering threats.

Russell pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced May 28. Bazin's seven-page decision was recently published online.

The assaults happened May 5 at the Pioneer Co-op Home Centre in Swift Current.

Russell came in to buy something and was wearing a plastic face shield but no mask.

Under Saskatchewan's public health orders meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, wearing a mask is mandatory in most indoor public spaces, including retail stores.

Court heard when a clerk told him he had to wear a mask inside the store, Russell loudly protested.

He started to punch the manager in the face. A third employee, a middle-aged woman, came to help. Mr. Russell punched her in the side of the head and shoved her into the counter.- Judge Karl Bazin in his May 28 decision

"He began to yell and scream at the young woman," Bazin wrote. 

She called her manager, who told Russell he had to wear a mask or leave. Russell got even angrier.

"He started to punch the manager in the face," the court decision says. "A third employee, a middle-aged woman, came to help. Mr. Russell punched her in the side of the head and shoved her into the counter."

A fourth employee came to help and he was shoved backwards. Russell threatened a fifth employee with assault, then left the store.

Employee punched 20 to 21 times in the face

When a sixth employee, a 62-year-old man, followed to try to get a licence plate number, Russell attacked him, too.

"Mr. Russell punched this employee 20 to 21 times in the face over the course of about a minute," the decision said.

"He punched him in the chest and tried to sweep out the employee's legs."

The sixth employee was taken to the hospital with a suspected concussion and facial injuries, including a tooth cutting the inside of his mouth almost through the cheek.

Russell's defence argued that the attacks were out of character for Russell, a mail delivery worker who lives in Regina.

The defence also said Russell was suffering from "COVID fatigue" and when he was asked to wear a mask, he went '"postal," according to the decision.

They argued for a 12- to 18-month conditional sentence, which would essentially mean house arrest rather than time behind bars.

But the Crown called for four months in jail. Bazin agreed.

"I find that the principle of general deterrence is paramount to send a message to those who believe that they can attack and threaten front-line workers over government health orders which they did not create but are required to enforce," Bazin said in the decision.

It was a somewhat unusual decision in that it began with a lengthy preamble, where the judge talked about his personal approach to protective masks and the front-line people he comes into contact with on a daily basis.

"These front-line workers that I encountered, being fortunate not to be like so many Canadians that have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all start each day, trying their best to avoid contracting the virus and coming home to infect their family and loved ones," Bazin said.

After he gets out of jail, Russell will be on 12 months probation.

He'll also be required to get counselling for anger management, mental health and personal issues.

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