Breaking Court Decisions: Fraudster Rene Eric Berlinguette of Vancouver, BC, to remain in Jail Despite COVID-19 Pandemic
On March 24, 2020, Justice Riley of the BC Supreme Court heard a bail hearing brought by convicted fraudster Rene Eric Berlinguette, 43 years old, of Langley, BC. Mr. Berlinguette advised the Court that his health was at risk if he was kept in custody pending further fraud charges. For the reasons that follow, reported in 2020 BCSC, 477, Justice Riley denied Mr. Berlinguette’s bail request and ordered him kept in custody until his trial date in March 2021.
The Purpose of the Court’s Duty to Provide Public Notice of Fraud Judgments Issued by our Courts
The request for bail is a concern to the new victims of Mr. Berlinguette, as they were not aware of his criminal and fraudulent past. None of Mr. Berlinguette’s prior convictions had been reported in the press and Mr. Berlinguette has to date evaded location detection through a google search. Most of the judges who had dealt with Mr. Berlinguette in the past had not even bothered to publish their judgments on Canadian public legal information websites.
In other words, our Court system itself has not protected the public from Mr. Berlinquette by undertaking the simple task of publishing its own judgments. We ask aloud what is the point of issuing judgments if they are not published? One of the primary purposes of publishing judgments is to protect the public. Sadly, Canadian Courts often fail to publish fraud judgments. This article is submitted to protect the public and to solicit whistleblower information on Mr. Berlinguette at the email address indicated below. We offer a note of appreciation to Justice Riley for publishing his judgment. The following are extracts from his findings:
The New Charges against Mr. Berlingette
Mr. Berlinguette was before the court for a 90-day bail review. On December 3, 2019, he was detained on a number of outstanding charges. He has been in custody now for more than 90 days and is therefore entitled to a review of his detention under s. 525 of the Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46 [Code].
Counts 1 and 5 involve allegations of fraudulent use of a credit card and fraud. It is alleged that the credit card of an Ontario-based business was used fraudulently to purchase a total of $2,398 in merchandise, firearms, and firearms-related items from an internet vendor of firearms and firearms components. Those items were purchased over the internet and delivered to an address in Langley, BC, an address previously known to police. The police later obtained other evidence linking Mr. Berlinguette to the credit card transactions during the search of the Langley residence.
The remaining counts are allegations that Mr. Berlinguette unlawfully possessed a number of items of contraband, stolen credit cards, identity documents, credit card forgery equipment, stolen mail, illegal firearms, ammunition, and firearms accessories. All of these counts arise from the search of a residence in Langley pursuant to a warrant. Mr. Berlinguette was present in the residence when the police attended. The residence was occupied by Mr. Berlinguette and two other people. There was a body of circumstantial evidence linking Mr. Berlinguette to (a) a room where some of the contraband was found, and (b) circumstantially, to the contraband items found in other locations in the house.
Among other things, circumstantially, there was DNA from Mr. Berlinguette on at least one of the items of contraband, which was in fact one of the items allegedly purchased from the internet firearms vendor referred to above. Mr. Berlinguette’s fingerprints were also located on a notebook containing names and other personal information from credit cards. This was just some of the circumstantial evidence linking Mr. Berlinguette to the credit card fraud offences and other contraband which are the subject of the new charges.
The Ineffectiveness (the Joke) of House Arrest Sentences
Mr. Berlinguette was arrested on October 16, 2018, with respect to the new fraud charges. At the time of his arrest, he was on a conditional sentence order for a prior fraud conviction. Ironically in January 2019, he was found guilty of a breach of probation offence for failing to report to a bail supervisor in December 2018.
The next substantive set of charges alleges that Mr. Berlinguette used a stolen credit card, and was in possession of stolen property that had been taken from a residence in Langley, while he was supposed to be in ‘custody’ at his home. A victim went to check at the home of her parents in Langley and found that the house had been broken into, with the front door kicked in and thousands of dollars of property stolen. The matter was reported to the police. Mr. Berlinguette was identified in surveillance video using credit cards stolen from that residence at a coffee shop and a liquor store – all while he was in “custody” and supervision serving a “conditional” sentence.
On the basis of that evidence, the police obtained a warrant for Mr. Berlinguette’s residence. They located the clothing Mr. Berlinguette was seen to be wearing in the surveillance video. They also located various items in the house which may or may not be contraband and no charges have been laid against Mr. Berlinguette in relation to those things. On October 15, 2019, Mr. Berlinguette was arrested on a warrant of first instance on all of these matters.
The December 2019 Bail Hearing
At the time of the original bail hearing on December 3, 2019, Mr. Berlinguette was already facing three separate breach of probation charges. On February 27, 2020, Mr. Berlinguette pled guilty and was sentenced to time served with credit given for 25 days in custody, plus probation for two years.
At the bail hearing, the Crown tendered a copy of Mr. Berlinguette’s criminal record. He has multiple convictions for property and fraud offences, resisting arrest, and failure to comply with court orders. There are now three more entries on Mr. Berlinguette’s criminal record – for breach of probation as noted above. Mr. Berlinguette has accumulated 14 prior convictions from 2002 through to 2019, along with breach of bail and breach of conditional sentence orders.
At the bail hearing, counsel for Mr. Berlinguette proposed that he be released on a recognizance with no deposit and no surety, on conditions requiring him to reside at a particular drug recovery house, called ‘It’s Up to You Recovery Society’. Mr. Berlinguette made this request notwithstanding that the judge at the prior bail hearing held that Mr. Berlinguette was a significant risk to the public to commit further offences and concluding that the danger could not be prevented or reduced to an acceptable level by bail terms.
Bail for Rogues In a COVID-19 Pandemic
Counsel for Mr. Berlinguette suggested that since Mr. Berlinguette’s initial bail hearing on December 3, 2019, Mr. Berlinguette had taken a drug rehab program while in custody, which made him a lesser risk to the public, and that he was now at risk of a COVID-19 infection given the high density of the prison population where he was currently serving time. In other words, he submitted the crime risk to the public was less than the health risk to himself.
Justice Riley held that the purpose of a s. 525 Criminal Code 90-day bail review is to prevent accused persons from languishing in custody pending trial and to ensure matters are tried promptly. The overarching question is whether the continued detention of the accused in custody is justified to protect the safety of the public and to maintain confidence in the justice system. It is only where those risks cannot be properly managed by some bail arrangement short of detention that the accused’s detention in custody is justified.
Counsel for Mr. Berlinguette submitted that the newly proposed release plan involved a significant new offer of a $2,000 cash deposit. The Court did not buy this submission, and held that cash bail is most useful in addressing primary ground concerns about risk of flight. Cash bail is much less useful in addressing concerns about the secondary ground, that is, risk to public safety. Mr. Berlinguette had a substance abuse problem and access to a residential recovery facility no longer existed due to these facilities being closed due to COVID-19.
Insofar as COVID-19 being a health risk in jails, the recognized there is an elevated risk to detained persons being held in a confined space. The Court agreed that one of the main strategies advocated by public health officials to combat the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing and self-isolation, a strategy which is problematic in institutions where inmates do not normally have single cells. The Court held, though, that those responsible for the administration of pre-trial detention facilities have specific measures in place to monitor and address COVID-19 risks.
Escape Custody While Serving House Arrest Means No Bail
Justice Riley concluded his analysis by indicating that the determining factor that justified denying Mr. Berlinguette bail was that he was actually serving a conditional sentence (house arrest) at the time he committed the offences that brought him before the Court. Add to this factor his criminal record for past frauds and breaches of court orders, the fact that his pre-trial custody would be less than the time he would be sentenced to upon conviction, and that the evidence to support convictions on the new charges was strong, Justice Riley concluded that the interest of protecting the public and retaining respect for the justice system outweighed Mr. Berlinguette risk of contracting COVID-19.
Request for Information on Rene Eric Berlinguette
Anyone with information relating to fraudulent conduct by Mr. Berlinguette may submit it confidentially to staff@CanadianFraudNews.com. To review the entire judgment of Justice Riley, it may be viewed here.