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Cameras capture drug, weapons sentencings

Offer peek into provincial court

It may not have packed the punch of a controversial homicide verdict or a high-profile murder appeal, but the latest instalment of Cameras in the Court gave viewers a glimpse into the important daily happenings at the Winnipeg Law Courts.

For the first time, a provincial docket was broadcast live Tuesday. This followed previous offerings from the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench and Manitoba Court Of Appeal. Seven cases were dealt with during the nearly two-hour event. Three ended with guilty pleas and sentencings, the other four were adjourned.

It's likely all would have proceeded without a mention in the media if not for the judicial experiment meant to give the public a closer look at the legal system. In that sense, it was an unlucky day for all who appeared and hoped to quietly dispose of their matter.

This was a change from the earlier broadcasts, in which a Winnipeg woman walked free on a murder charge after a Queen's Bench justice accepted her claim of self-defence, and convicted triple-murderer Jér¥me Labossière pleaded for a new trial before the province's appeal court.

But the presence of the cameras made Tuesday's provincial docket an event. There's no denying the cases being dealt with -- involving drugs, weapons and/or gangs -- represent the serious issues that plague the city and often fill provincial court.

The most serious case of the day involved a young woman who admitted to a charge of possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking and was spared a jail sentence as part of a plea bargain.

Ingrid Severight was given a 21-month conditional sentence that allows her to remain in the community, albeit under restrictions, including a daily curfew.

Severight was arrested in 2012 after police executed a search warrant at her home and found 20 rocks of crack, along with numerous cellphones, weigh scales and proceeds of crime. She admits selling drugs as part of a "gangsta" lifestyle meant to support her own longtime addiction, court was told.

Lawyers painted a troubling picture of Severight's background, which is why they didn't recommend a real-custody sentence most drug traffickers in Manitoba receive.

In another case Tuesday, a Winnipeg man admitted to the less-serious charge of possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking. Adam Fritz was given a $1,000 fine after getting caught with 48 grams of pot during a police spot check last year.

"I'm very sorry for my actions. I do regret breaking the law," Fritz told court. "I used poor judgment and will regret that for the rest of my life."

Defence lawyer Hymie Weinstein told court his client has Asperger's syndrome and other cognitive issues that led him to wrongly believe marijuana was legal to possess in Canada. More than a dozen letters of support for Fritz were filed with the court. It was his first conviction.

In Tuesday's other sentencing, a rural Manitoba man admitted he improperly stored a shotgun inside his Oakbank-area home. Police seized the weapon during an investigation last spring.

"We're all aware how firearms can fall into the hands of the wrong people," said provincial court Judge Dale Harvey. He agreed to a joint recommendation to give Lance Borchardt a conditional discharge, meaning he will maintain a clean criminal record if he stays out of trouble for the next year.

Defence lawyer Roberta Campbell said her client is a hunter who knows the importance of weapon safety.

"He should have had the proper locks on these guns. It was, frankly, sloppiness on his part," she said.

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