NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — A man who fatally stabbed a teenage girl at a high school in Abbotsford, B.C., in 2016 will not be eligible to apply for parole for 16 years, after a judge ruled the impacts of his actions have been "powerful and far-reaching."
Gabriel Klein was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated assault in March 2020 in the attack that killed Letisha Reimer, 13, and seriously injured her friend, whose name is protected by a publication ban.
"These offences did their damage not only to the immediate victims as well as to their families and close friends, they also damaged the school community by destroying the sense of security it must be able to foster," Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes said in delivering the sentence Wednesday.
Klein received an automatic life sentence and an additional seven-year sentence for the aggravated assault, to be served concurrently. However, he was also given seven years' credit for time served while awaiting trial.
The B.C. Supreme Court has heard the girls were in the rotunda that connects Abbotsford Senior Secondary to a public library when Klein approached and stabbed Reimer's friend before turning on Reimer. He did not know the girls before the attack.
Klein had a history of mental and psychological issues, some drug-related.
However, Holmes found that he did not suffer an acute schizophrenic episode at the time of the attack, despite his claims that he saw monsters instead of the girls.
Klein applied for a hearing over criminal responsibility one week before sentencing was originally set to begin last September.
In April, Holmes ruled against Klein's argument that he suffered a mental disorder that made him unable to appreciate the nature of his actions or that they were wrong.
Klein declined to speak at the sentencing hearing, but his lawyer Martin Peters said he read all 46 of the victim impact statements.
"He said, 'Martin, what I did that day was evil and horrible, and when I read the victim impact statements, I cried,'" Peters quoted Klein as saying.
Holmes said that while the trial focused on Klein, now is the time when a spotlight can be shone on Reimer, her friend and other victims of the offence.
"The victim impact statements, and there are many, make clear that she was valued as a very special person, joyful, filled with laughter, poised and confident, kind-hearted and caring, generous as a volunteer, devoted to her family, a wonderful soul with a beautiful smile, fun to be with, willing to be goofy and in an unbearable irony, full of life," Holmes said.
"The effects of losing her are many, wide and profound."
Reimer's friend suffered not only injuries, but serious anxiety and fear of going to school and being alone following the attack. She and her family felt guilt about her survival in the face of the Reimers' pain, the judge said.
Holmes also spoke to the young woman who was hurt in the attack directly in her ruling, although she was not in court.
"No guilt at all belongs to you or your family. What you have been feeling as guilt is an expression of your respect and love for Letisha and your recognition of the pain her loss has caused to her family, as well as to you and yours."
The court heard that the entire school community was affected, with staff alone filing 58 claims with WorkSafeBC.
The Crown argued at the sentencing hearing last month that Klein should serve at least 18 years before he could apply for release, while his lawyer said parole eligibility should be set at 12 years.
Holmes said the aggravating factors in her decision included that there were two victims, that they were both children and the attack occurred at a school, a place that society counts on to be a "safe haven."
Mitigating factors included Klein's young age of 21 at the time of the attack, and his Métis identity. The court recognizes the systemic and intergenerational effects on Indigenous Peoples that lead to higher incarceration rates, she said.
Family spokesman Dave Teixeira read a statement from Letisha's mother, Eliane Reimer, outside the court.
The court journey was long and heavy and yet the love of family, friends and complete strangers helped lighten the load, the statement said.
"No amount of jail time will bring back my daughter Letisha, but I am grateful the court arrived at this decision today," it said.
Reimer called for a review of how the court handles claims of not criminally responsible, so that victims are not revictimized by the uncertainty the process creates, as well as increased support for those who struggle with substance use and mental wellness.
"Letisha always wanted to help, so if there is any good that can come from any of this, let it be that we are improving our community, assisting others and working to ensure similar tragedies never happen again."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2021.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press