Thomas James Berube is asking the Alberta Court of Appeal to reconsider his case after he was sentenced to 10 years in prison following a string of break and enters and arsons in northwestern Alberta.
In September, Berube pleaded guilty to a number of charges relating to thefts and fires at multiple businesses, in different towns, including the Edson Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership, the Edson Honda dealership, a Petro-Canada in Niton Junction and Whitecourt’s KW Pet Store.
He was also charged with stealing and torching a truck in Edson.
Berube was 37 years old when he, along with a 17 year old (who cannot be named because of the Youth Criminal Justice Act), were arrested in March 2020.
READ MORE: Whitecourt businesses destroyed in Boxing Day blaze
Berube has been representing himself, without a lawyer, as of late.
On Thursday, he asked Justice Frederica Schutz for an adjournment of his appeal hearing, saying he had additional documentation, including videos, he wanted to share. He also requested a number of court transcripts leading up to his guilty plea.
“I was clearly not in the right state of mind,” he said.
“I ripped my toenails off. I was in extreme pain. I chewed a hole in my arm in the courtroom in Hinton.”
Berube then suggested those details must be taken into account in the court’s decision making.
“I don’t know what I was going through. I have extreme anxiety, I’m diagnosed with PTSD and a whole bunch of mental disorders. I will be presenting that to the court.”
He then went on to ask about submitting a Rowbotham application. That’s a request for the government to pay for legal representation when someone has been denied legal aid.
“I’m at a disadvantage being a self-represented individual. I do believe I would be better represented with a lawyer, if that’s possible,” Berube said.
READ MORE: Edson Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership fire, vehicle fire may be related: RCMP
His crimes shook the small western Alberta towns they occurred in.
The first fire took place in December 2019 at Edson Chrysler Dodge Jeep. Damage there was extensive, as the whole office and showroom section was destroyed, as well as about 60 per cent of the mechanic shop.
That same day, a truck was torched in Edson, the entire cab melted away.
Two weeks later, a pet store in Whitecourt — KW Pets — went up in flames, killing all the animals inside. The blaze was so intense it took out a sewing store next door too.
On Dec. 30, Edson Honda was also set ablaze. The dealership never reopened.
“It was very traumatic for our entire community and we still feel those impacts today,” said Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara.
Then, in February 2020, there was another fire, this time at the Petro-Canada in Niton Junction. It gutted the gas station.
Berube already pleaded guilty to two counts of killing animals — one for the animals who died in the pet store, and one for a chihuahua he’d stolen from KW Pets prior to the blaze and later killed.
After credit for time served, Berube has six and a half years left in his sentence.
READ MORE: Fire destroys Edson Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership west of Edmonton
Berube has a long history of property offences in Edson and Zahara said many people in the community don’t have faith in the justice system to properly incarcerate criminals.
“Repeat offenders seem to not get serious jail time or face serious consequences. This is another situation — a repeat offender who has pleaded guilty and is looking to appeal and we see this all the time — with repeat offenders back on the streets.”
When asked about Berube’s appeal, the general manager at Edson Chysler, Wendy Meister, told Global News she doesn’t think he’ll win an appeal even if court decides to hear one.
She said the dealership is in a new building now and is moving forward.
The case will come back before the court of appeal on Feb. 2.
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