‘I’m truly sorry:’ Woman who caused Prince Albert memorial centre fire to attend rehabilitation program

Firefighters extinguish a fire at the Allen Bird Memorial Centre on Friday, Apr. 15, 2022. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The woman who set fire to the Senator Allen Bird Memorial Centre in Prince Albert was in tears in court on Wednesday.

Gina Beatty was sentenced to spend 12 to 18 months at a rehabilitation centre, depending on how she progresses, with three years of probation orders which include addictions counselling, a curfew, not possessing drugs, alcohol or any fire-starting devices.

Justice Hugh Herradence also told Beatty to write an apology letter to Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN) chief and council, suggesting she attend one of their meetings to voice her remorse.

“I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry,” Beatty said through tears to those who attended her sentencing.

“I will work on myself. I will try my best to do better.”

The memorial centre went up in flames on Apr. 15, 2022.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Beatty had been coming down from a methamphetamine high and was suicidal. After being released from police detention cells, she threw a burning piece of cardboard at a stack of pallets outside of the memorial centre, which eventually destroyed the whole building.

Fire Insp. Brad Antonson said dispatch called in all firefighters, which “stretched the resources and manpower of the department.” Cst. Nolan Carter with the Prince Albert Police Service said the investigation took seven days.

No one was injured from the fire.

Beatty, who’s now 25 years old, pleaded guilty to one count of arson on Jun. 2. 

A joint submission from Beatty’s defence lawyer, Gordon Kirkby, and Crown Prosecutor Jeff Summach requested a sentencing circle, a cultural collaboration between community members and the criminal justice system to discuss the impacts of a crime. 

However, they opted for a more informal approach to a traditional hearing. Beatty was let out of the prisoner’s box to sit next to her lawyer, listening to statements from four people. Beatty’s mother also attended.

Wearing a grey sweatsuit, she sat with her hands intertwined on her lap for the first couple of speakers. She started crying when Donna Morin, director of finance for the PBCN, addressed her.

Morin told Beatty she forgives her. PBCN is also working on re-building the centre, she said, which held various community events.

“People make mistakes,” Morin told court.

“Gina deserves a chance to live her life,” she said, adding that if she’s anything like her mother, who she works with, “she will be an asset to the community.”

“We are going to come back stronger and I know Gina will come back stronger, too – and I’ll be watching.”

But Herradence said he was mostly swayed by Elder Margaret Michel’s statement. 

She said Beatty needs long-term rehabilitation with support from her family and elders. This led Herradence to extend Beatty’s probation from two years to three.

“It’s very hard for young kids today,” Michel said, referencing addictions. “There’s a lot of peer pressure.”

“(The centre) can be replaced, but for a young girl, I don’t believe she could do things without remorse.”

Herradence stressed to Beatty to work on overcoming her addiction. According to Kirkby, Beatty’s involvement with drugs began with marijuana at 13 years old, which then spiralled into alcohol and methamphetamine use.

“It’s destroying the minds of young people like you,” he told Beatty.

“You can be a role model…you can save lives,” he said.

In discussing Beatty’s background, Kirkby said four of her friends have died from drugs or suicide.

“You have been given your second chance, so don’t squander it,” said Herradence.

Beatty hugged her mother following the sentencing.

According to Kirkby, the rehabilitation program Beatty will be attending in Brandon, Man. has a 78 per cent success rate. If she breaches her probation orders, she won’t be able to continue on in the program.