Woman who set fire to Surrey, B.C. church sentenced to 4 years in prison

Click to play video: 'Sentencing hearing for woman who burned down Surrey Church'
Sentencing hearing for woman who burned down Surrey Church
WATCH: Sentencing hearing for woman who burned down Surrey Church – Feb 24, 2022

A woman who set fire to a Surrey, B.C., church last year has been sentenced to four years in prison.

Kathleen Panek, 35, pleaded guilty to two counts of arson in relation to the July 19, 2021 burning of the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Surrey’s Whalley neighbourhood.

She was also accused of entering Whalley’s Sunshine Housing Co-op on March 15, 2021, and setting fire to cardboard boxes outside a unit.

Friday’s sentence matches prosecutors’ request of two years for each count, to be served consecutively, minus time already served behind bars.

Panek’s defence lawyers had asked for a sentence between 18 months and two years, arguing their client has admitted guilt, apologized in court and shown remorse.

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Panek has been in custody since her arrest on Aug. 26, 2021.

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Panek was originally set to be sentenced in February, but the judge said she needed more time to review the evidence before making a decision.

Click to play video: 'Surrey church destroyed in a suspicious fire'
Surrey church destroyed in a suspicious fire

The church’s congregation of about 300 families was displaced by the fire, which destroyed much of the building’s structure.

Speaking outside the Surrey courthouse after the sentencing Friday, congregation and church board member Medhat Elmasry said the judge’s decision “has no consequence” on the future of the church.

“Ultimately, the whole thing is so senseless that nobody benefits anything from this,” he said.

“It’s going to be very difficult for us to rebuild. So I really do not have any feelings about the sentencing at all because it has no value.”

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Elmasry said he attended the sentencing “to understand why (Panek) did this,” but left without feeling that question had been answered.

Security footage shows Panek lighting the church’s front door decorations on fire four days before the massive blaze, according to a statement of facts read in court on Feb. 24 by Crown prosecutor Mike Fortino.

Fortino told the court that after her arrest, Panek admitted to lighting both church fires while upset due to a fight with her boyfriend.

Her lawyers disputed that, arguing Panek was under the influence of meth and heroin.

No evidence was presented in court to suggest the burnings were a hate crime.

At the time of the church fire, police had said there was no evidence that the arson was related to the legacy of residential schools in the province.

–With files from Janet Brown and Elizabeth McSheffrey

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