By Don Norman
On April 2nd, Former Sagkeeng principal, Claude Guimond was sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 14 years for two counts of second-degree murder.
Last month, Guimond pleaded guilty for the 2017 shooting deaths of Jody Brown and Steven Chevrefils.
Guimond’s message to the court was simple. “I took the guilty plea. I’m guilty,” he said. “I sat in my cell last night and struggled to put words to paper, but true sincerity and true remorse can’t be scripted. I know I deprived two good families of their family members. I have deprived my family too.” Guimond showed clear remorse, “if I could take the night back, I would in a second,” he said. “I committed a heinous act. I don’t expect you to forgive me.”
The court was told the murders were an act of drunken vigilantism.
The sentence reflects the recommendations of both the Crown and the defence lawyers and brings to a close an episode that had a profound effect on the community.
Because of this profound effect, and because it revealed details that haven’t been widely published elsewhere, we have decided to publish Justice Keyser’s judgement in its entirety.
Please note, there is some graphic information and unedited profanities contained in the following text.
Queens Bench Justice Brenda Keyser’s Judgement in the case between Her Majesty the Queen and Claude Guimond (accused)
On March 16, 2020, Claude Guimond (“Guimond”) pleaded guilty to two counts of second degree murder in answer to two counts of first degree murder involving the deaths of Jody Brown (“Brown”) and Steven Chevrefils (“Chevrefils”) on February 28, 2017. Both counsel submitted a joint recommendation for a sentence of life imprisonment concurrent on both counts with ineligibility for parole set at 14 years. For the reasons which follow I am prepared to accept the joint recommendation.
Powerview Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”) were called to a home in St-Georges, Manitoba on February 28, 2017 and on arrival found Chevrefils dead on the kitchen floor. He had been shot in the head and chest. Brown was found deceased in the basement of the residence. A third person, Cheryl Bruyere (“Cheryl”), advised that she believed she had been shot in the head. The shot was later determined to be from a ricochet of one of the bullets fired from the basement. A lengthy investigation ensued, including the taking of a number of witness statements. Cheryl described being at the residence with her daughter and the two deceased with all of them consuming drugs and alcohol. At one point her cousin Andrew Bruyere (“Andrew”) knocked and entered. After a few minutes another male with black face paint entered and went into the basement of the residence. She then heard loud bangs before she was struck in the head.
Cheryl’s daughter Rhiannon saw Andrew enter and go downstairs. She then saw Brown lying at the bottom of the steps and Chevrefils struggling with someone when a gun went off. She saw Chevrefils run upstairs followed by a man in a black jacket. She heard a “poof” upstairs and two “poofs” downstairs. Chevrefils was lying deceased on the kitchen floor so she ran next door for help.
Andrew’s girlfriend Shezna Guimond (“Shezna”) is Guimond’s daughter. She advised police that she was looking after her intoxicated father and boyfriend. She wanted marihuana and thus Andrew took her to the Brown residence to get some. She waited outside while Andrew went inside. She saw a dark figure go by and into the house, heard a bang, then Andrew yelled at her to “get the fuck out of here”, and they returned to her father’s house.
Guimond was interviewed as a potential witness to what occurred and denied ever being at the residence or having anything to do with what took place. He also denied ever having had any prior contact with either Brown or Chevrefils. Andrew was at first charged with murder but that count was later stayed. I was advised that he will be pleading guilty to manslaughter. In the course of the investigation DNA was obtained from swabs on the hands of Chevrefils as well as DNA on a discarded shell casing found at the Brown residence. About a year after the murders took place police received information that Guimond had, in fact, been at the residence that night. Police then obtained a cast-off DNA sample from Guimond and matched it to the DNA from the shell casing and from the hand swabs of Chevrefils. As a result, he was charged with two counts of first degree murder on December 12, 2018. When interviewed in a warned statement he still proclaimed his innocence and again asserted that he had never been to the Brown residence and had never met Brown or Chevrefils. He had no explanation for the DNA match.
While in custody a wiretap authorization resulted in admissions to family members about being at the residence the night of the murders. It became apparent that the person who entered the residence in the black face paint was, in fact, Guimond and that he was responsible for the deaths of Chevrefils and Brown.
The joint recommendation proposed by senior and experienced counsel takes into consideration that this is a true plea bargain. According to the Crown there was little to no evidence available that the deaths were either planned or deliberate, particularly since Guimond was highly intoxicated at the time the murders occurred. He acknowledged having brought a gun over to the residence that fateful night but maintained that his intention was simply to scare Brown and Chevrefils. However, he also knew the potential for something much worse to occur since the gun was loaded when he went to the residence. The joint recommendation also takes into consideration the fact that had this proceeded it would have been a lengthy and complicated trial.
The Crown decried the actions of Guimond as vigilantism and not to be condoned. Guimond went to the residence to confront Brown and Chevrefils over their drug dealing. He was distressed as two of his daughters were addicted to drugs and he felt that the RCMP had not done anything to curb the actions of drug dealers in the area. There was a grow-op in the basement of the residence and both deceased had methamphetamine, cocaine and amphetamines in their systems at autopsy.
Part of the sentencing material made available to me included a report prepared by Kevin MacDonald and Gerry Goertzen of Riverbend Counselling & Wellness (“Riverbend”). Guimond is a member of Sagkeeng First Nation. His grandparents and parents were residential school survivors and he himself attended residential day school. Guimond talked openly about the effects of colonialism on his community and on his family, which he categorized as psychological abuse. Traditional culture and language were decried as evil by those running the residential schools. The cumulative effect of the loss of tradition was the loss of nurturing parenting skills, loss of confidence in the community and widespread problems with alcohol and drugs. Guimond himself has had an ongoing battle with alcohol use and binge drinking. He was seriously intoxicated when the murders took place.
There are a number of aggravating factors which make the recommendation for enhanced parole ineligibility appropriate:
- there are two victims in this case. Neither family provided victim impact statements, but both victims had family in court and the loss of their loved ones have no doubt deeply affected them regardless of the lack of victim impact statements being provided;
- Guimond engaged in extensive attempts to deny responsibility and involvement in this case and got his daughter to lie for him to police;
- this was motivated by vigilantism, which is to be denounced in a very strong manner; and
- Guimond has a prior criminal record although it is not violent. He was convicted in August 2016 of impaired driving and fined $1,200; in June 2018 he was convicted of drive over .08 and was granted two years’ probation by way of a curative discharge.
There are also a number of mitigating factors in this case:
- Guimond entered guilty pleas to the counts of second degree murder. This saved his daughters from having to testify against him and saved the Province of Manitoba from the costs of a lengthy trial;
- Guimond expressed remorse to the families of his two victims in court. His expressions of remorse appeared sincere; and
- Guimond has no violence on his record. He is otherwise of good character. Despite the effects of colonialism on his family and community he was long considered a role model in the community. Guimond served three years in the military before returning to university to study to be a teacher. He was employed in the educational field for 24 years, both as a teacher and then later as principal, in Sagkeeng First Nation until 2017 when he went on leave to care for his terminally ill wife. She died in 2018, several months before his arrest.
In support of the joint recommendation, defence counsel filed a number of letters of support for Guimond as well as the Riverbend report. Guimond has expressed remorse for his actions as well as an understanding of the damage he caused. The consequences of his actions that fateful night are devastating for his family as well as for the families of Brown and Chevrefils. Taking all factors into consideration, the enhanced ineligibility proposed, in my view, is appropriate. It still signifies a heightened level of significant consequence for Guimond’s actions. Even after the 14 years has elapsed there is no guarantee that he will, in fact, be released on parole. He must satisfy the Parole Board that he is a proper candidate for that.
Therefore, for all of the above reasons, I sentence Guimond to the recommended sentence of life imprisonment concurrent on both counts with no eligibility for parole before 14 years has elapsed.