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Alleged box vandal appears Feb 9

Thomas M Strain charged with damaging Capital Xtra boxes

A three-week adjournment was granted Jan 19 in the case of a man accused of vandalizing dozens of Capital Xtra newspaper boxes last summer and fall.

Ottawa resident Thomas M Strain, age 47, was arrested Nov 11. He was released on five conditions, including not coming within 500 metres of a Capital Xtra newsbox, having no paint in his possession, not going anywhere frequented by the gay, lesbian and transgender community, and following a 9pm-6am curfew.

Defence lawyer Michael Spratt appeared on Strain’s behalf Jan 19 and asked for the adjournment. Spratt later told Capital Xtra the Crown had only finished completing disclosure that morning and he required more time to review the case. He said he wasn’t sure why the Crown had taken so long to provide complete disclosure but said it wasn’t unusual.

This is the third adjournment in the case. On Dec 8, the court first granted an adjournment to give Strain sufficient time to find a lawyer. In his next appearance, Dec 22, the case was adjourned because the Crown had only just started to provide disclosure to the defence that morning.

Strain, charged with four counts of mischief under $5,000 and one count of mischief over $5,000, has yet to enter a plea.

“There’s lots of steps that you have to go through before you enter a plea,” Spratt says, including reviewing disclosure, conversations with the Crown and scheduling court time. “We’re sort of in the middle of that process right now.”

After his Dec 8 appearance, Strain told reporters outside the courtroom, “Whatever my plea, I’ve got nothing against lawyers. I don’t hate everybody.”

Speaking outside the courtroom after his Dec 22 appearance, Strain told Capital Xtra, “I could live with being a pariah, being hated, whatever, being looked at as a criminal by everyone except God. God doesn’t regard me as a criminal, even if I’m in jail. God will sustain me no matter how many people are against me.

“I can’t justify it. It was a crazy thing. It’s stupid and a normal person wouldn’t do it,” added Strain. “I’m vulnerable to whatever, evil or whatever you want to call it. I’m not accountable. I wouldn’t be doing things like what I did if I was still going to church.”

Over a four-month period last summer and fall, dozens of Capital Xtra newspapers boxes had paint spilled on them, their windows painted black, swastikas or “HIV” painted on them or their doors repeatedly screwed shut so they couldn’t be opened. Some were hit repeatedly. Adjacent newspaper boxes remained unharmed.

The case was investigated by Ottawa Police’s Hate Crimes Unit and is expected to be treated by the Crown as a hate crime.

The Ottawa Citizen reported the vandalism in a Sept 8 story. The next day, a Citizen editorial decried the assault on free speech.

“Ottawans can be proud to live in an open and inclusive community that abhors hatred and rejects discrimination based on sexual orientation,” wrote the Citizen. “Capital Xtra has the same right as any newspaper to publish, even if some people object to its content.”

In a media release, Det Will Hinterberger, lead investigator of the hate crime unit, applauded the assistance of Capital Xtra in the case.

“The hate crime unit recognizes the potential disproportionate harm caused by such offences,” said Hinterberger. “The targetting of any identifiable group is completely unacceptable.”

Strain is scheduled to reappear Thu, Feb 9, at 8:30am in Courtroom 5 at the Ottawa courthouse (161 Elgin St). The courts are open to the public.