Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sad tale of misfortune ends time in custody

Came to help sick sister, ended up living in a tent

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He travelled from Toronto to Winnipeg to help his sick and struggling sister, a single mom of seven dealing with terminal cancer.

But a litany of compounding misfortunes saw Rheal Savard's visit degenerate to the point where he ended up living in a tent in a parking lot over the brutal winter, and finally, jail.

Those are the circumstances told to provincial court Judge Lee Ann Martin this week as Savard, 36, dealt with a series of charges he faced after being arrested at a Rona store for stealing a $19.99 set of bolt cutters to add to other tools police found in his backpack on April 6.

While searching the bag, officers also found a number of other people's credit cards, ones that had gone missing but were never used for crime, court heard.

Also in Savard's jumble of personal effects was a .357 Magnum cartridge and several hundred dollars worth of methamphetamine.

Savard has struggled with beating the highly addictive street drug since he was 14.

Savard, himself sick with three chronic illnesses, came to Winnipeg not long ago to help his struggling sister, defence lawyer Matt Gould said.

Last summer, however, Savard's apartment caught fire, rendering him homeless.

His sister had no space to take him in, Martin heard.

With nowhere else to go, Savard concocted a plan to seek shelter in the parking lot of a Home Depot outlet because there was ready access to electricity, said Gould.

"He was in a tent with two plug-in heaters for the entire winter," said Gould. "This was one of the coldest winters we've had in Winnipeg."

Life was "a daily struggle," with Savard being unable to meet his basic needs for food, shelter and proper health care, court heard.

The tools he had were only used to pick through trash to find items in order to strip valuable metals from them, Gould added.

After being arrested and jailed, life got even worse for Savard. He was diagnosed with Crohn's disease while in custody.

His painful bowel disorder drew jeers from some fellow inmates, Savard told Martin. Corrections rules meant he was unable to have pain medications while locked up.

"I know that it's time for change," he said, at one point breaking into sobs during the hearing. "I'm too old... really, really sick," said Savard.

It's hard to stay positive "when everyone makes fun of you," he added.

Martin credited Savard for his ability to stay clean of drugs for a four-year period in the past, but chided him for using meth again given his health problems.

The bullet was a trinket that had been welded on a box of military medals he'd bought for $5 at a thrift store, Gould said.

Martin granted Gould's request for a measure of extra credit to be applied to the more than three months he's spent in custody.

He was sentenced to time served and was to be released Thursday. Martin declined to place him on probation.

Savard is currently wanted in Toronto for leaving the area while serving a conditional sentence, court heard.

"They essentially deemed him too ill to be spending time in custody," Gould said.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2014 A15

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