3 min

Box vandal gets house arrest

Vandalism was a 'hate crime,' says judge

The man accused of painting and vandalizing Capital Xtra boxes last summer has been sentenced to three months of house arrest and a year’s probation.

Thomas M Strain, 48, pleaded guilty May 18 to mischief. He stood before the court with keys dangling in his right hand, wearing a navy blue trench coat. Earlier Strain had been reading a pocket-sized Bible in court.

Judge Ann Alder sentenced Strain to three months of house arrest, during which he will be monitored during movements outside his home. After that, he is on probation for 12 months, and must get permission from his probation officer for his movements. Any breach of this sentence will put him back to court and, possibly, to jail. He must also do 100 hours of community service.

Between mid-August 2005 up until the arrest of Strain on Nov 11, Capital Xtra’s newspaper boxes in Westboro and downtown were vandalized with dumped and sprayed paint, painted swastikas and “HIV.” Some had their doors screwed shut. Adjacent boxes holding other newspapers were untouched. The total costs of repair exceeded $10,000.

In sentencing Strain, the judge said the symbols painted on the box were “scary” for many in the queer community and others.

The gay community was “somewhat traumatized” by the series of actions, crown attorney Riad Tallim told the court. “A wave of fear swept the community.” People wondered whether the actions would escalate into direct confrontations with community members, he suggested.

But the Crown, the judge, and Strain?s lawyer all pointed to a series of reasons why Strain should be cut some slack.

Judge Alder called the vandalism a serious crime and agreed with the Crown that it was also a hate crime. But she added that Strain?s case is “complex” and it would not be right to send him to jail.

Michael Spratt, Strain’s lawyer, said his client had cumulative issues that took a toll on him in the lead up to the vandalism acts.

A psychiatric report found that the strict religiosity of Strain?s parents had taken a heavy toll on him. His mother died in 2003, his father two years later. He lost his job with the government. He has severe depression, the court heard, and he has self-treated extreme insomnia by taking up to 24 airsickness pills daily.

Strain had become severely isolated socially by the time of his vandalism, the court heard. But he is “not criminal nor anti-social by nature” and does not present a risk to himself or others.

With help, he could deal with his pill problem, his isolation from others, and even the self-loathing that led him to focus on Capital Xtra boxes. Strain may suffer from “hate toward what’s going on in your own mind and [are] feeling,” the judge told him.

The judge, Crown and defence lawyers met May 9 to discuss the case.

Spratt asked the court to impose community service, noting, “He needs to give something back.” The judge noted that Strain had worked for 14 years at The Shepherds of Good Hope homeless centre.

In an interview outside the courtroom, Strain said he would like to volunteer at a gay and lesbian organization “if they?re willing to accept me. It’s awkward, maybe, but that might be a part of community service, or at least an option.”

He said he would get counselling to deal with his issues.

Strain said the long-term and intense series of acts of vandalism was “out of character for me” and obsessive-compulsive. Since then, he’s been “introspective to a fault,” he says. “This was a crazy act.”

Asked if he thought the sentence was fair, Strain replied, “I think I really got mercy.”

The acts were triggered, he said, because he was “upset for religious reasons about same-sex marriage. I had a fear of homosexuals getting power. The legislation was part of that feeling, not the whole thing.”

Asked directly if he is gay, Strain didn’t answer the question. Instead he said, “It was so stressful. I didn’t get pleasure out of it.”