LINDSAY, Ont.—An Indigenous youth with severe mental health challenges has received the maximum three-year sentence for setting a fire that killed two people in a Lindsay-area foster home.
The sentence was handed down Thursday after the court heard heart-rending statements from friends and family members of the victims — 14-year-old Kassy Finbow, a resident of the home, and her caregiver, Andrea Reid.
“These crimes have caused devastating, life-altering and immeasurable impacts to the surviving victims and to the family and others connected with the victims,” Justice J.A. Payne said during the sentencing.
The girl, who can’t be named because she was a minor when she set the fire, will remain in youth custody for almost another 26 months because of time already served. Most of the sentence will be served at the Syl Apps treatment centre in Oakville, where she will receive intensive rehabilitation.
She had pled guilty last December to manslaughter and arson causing bodily harm.
The sentencing came at the end of an emotionally charged day. At one point, the court was cleared after Reid’s 17-year-old son stood, swore loudly, and shouted, ‘I’m leaving. I’ve heard enough.” He then punched the door and stormed out.
The outburst came as the girl’s defence lawyer, David Hodson, explained the historical and systemic issues — including 50 years of mercury poisoning by a nearby industry — that have plagued Indigenous people in Grassy Narrows, her northern Ontario reserve.
The victim impact statements left many in the court wiping away tears.
Victoria Fowler, Reid’s mother, described how she felt on Feb. 24, 2017, the day of the fire that took her daughter’s life.
“Our lives were shattered. It was as if we had been kicked in the gut and all the life sucked out of us,” she said, speaking from a wheelchair as family members sobbed. “I never got to hold her to kiss her or say goodbye.
“Our family is split into pieces, our hearts are ripped open,” she added, referring to the impact on Reid’s husband, Ron, and their three children. “Our beautiful, friendly daughter is never coming back.”
Fowler said her 43-yer-old daughter was “ecstatic” when she landed the group home job. She brought the foster kids to her rural lakeside home for fishing, swimming and toasting marshmallows over the campfire.
“If there was ever a person who thought of others it was Andrea,” her mother said, adding that Reid was also a Scout leader, helped with the local school breakfast program and sat on the school’s parent council.
Kassy’s mother, Chantal Finbow, said her daughter “should not have died this way.
“Kassy was supposed to be in a safe place,” said Finbow, whose statement was read in court by an uncle, Andre Richer.
During the fire, Kassy was trapped with Reid and another caregiver in her second floor bedroom at an Oakwood foster home run by a company called Conner Homes.
The girl, who set the fire when she was 17, was also a resident of the home. She lashed out after learning that she would not be going home to Grassy Narrows when she turned 18. She used a lighter to set alight books, cardboard and a couch.
“It was a senseless and impulsive act on the part of a young person that resulted in the death of two beautiful people,” Crown attorney Ron Davidson told the court.
The upstairs bedroom quickly filled with smoke. The only window was too small to squeeze out of. A sliding-glass door in the room was bolted shut. The deaths have sparked multiple investigations by police, government officials, the coroner office, children’s aid societies and the Star.
They reveal a child protection system that doesn’t know if minimal standards of care are being met, has no qualifications for caregivers, and is governed by a children’s ministry scrambling to perform its oversight role.
Kassy died at the scene. Reid was declared brain-dead in hospital the next day, and was kept on life-support as a candidate for organ donation.
A third resident of the home at the time of fire described returning from meeting her children’s aid society worker to see smoke billowing from the Quaker Rd. foster home.
In her victim statement, she told the court she can’t forgive herself for not being in the home to help Kassy, her best friend, and Andrea, “who was like a second mother.” She said she struggles with anxiety and depression, has been hospitalized, and has tried to kill herself several times.
“I feel so lost without her,” she said of Kassy. Her only comfort is a tattoo she got in Kassy’s memory, which reads, “You’ll be with me wherever I go.”
The court heard the girl, now 18, who set the fire suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, schizophrenia, alcohol and drug abuse and a severe developmental delay.
Payne noted the girl stopped going to school regularly after Grade 2. She can’t read or count and has an “overall intellectual functioning lower than the 0.1 percentile.”
She was raised by adoptive parents and once tried to kill her adoptive father, who died of cancer last June. Her adoptive mother died when she was 13.
Payne described her challenging history as a mitigating factor.
“She has expressed sorrow and regret for her actions and for the victims of the fire,” he added.
However, the court heard the girl has six previous convictions for violent outburst, including twice assaulting police officers.
“She continues to pose a serious risk to the community,” Davidson told the court.
The last six months of her sentence will be served under supervision at the home of her biological grandfather in Grassy Narrows.