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Kevin Martin: Court walks fine line on Peace Bridge vandal

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Brian Douglas Jensen’s case is controversial.

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On the one hand, there are people who would have settled for nothing less than a judge throwing the book at him for his vandalism spree on Calgary’s iconic Peace Bridge.

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Others sympathize with the homeless man who shattered 70 panes of glass on the $24.5 million bridge that spans the Bow River between downtown Calgary and the community of Sunnyside.

And still others complain about the cost of the walkway, a bone of contention at the time the bridge was approved by Calgary City Council, and something that is now (literally) water under the bridge.

But the first two positions are worth considering in more detail.

Yes, Jensen, 59, committed one of the worst acts of vandalism the city, and perhaps the nation, has ever seen.

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Jensen caused more than $1 million in damage during his July 24, 2022 shooting spree and an earlier incident in which he broke a single window while crossing the bridge six weeks earlier.

That price tag may be another indictment of the structure’s high cost (but still water under the bridge), but more importantly, it represents an astronomical level of damage under the property damage category.

Many Calgarians love the covered walkway, the creation of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, which bears a striking resemblance to a Chinese finger trap and is a must-see for visitors to the city.

And because of Jensen’s actions, the City of Calgary had to redesign the structure, announcing last year that the glass panels along the railing would be replaced with cheaper-to-maintain steel guy wires.

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However, judicial sanctions for criminals must also be moderated with restraint, taking into account the costs of a crime.

While the maximum penalty for property damage in excess of $5,000 is 10 years in prison, most of these crimes carry little to no prison time, depending on the offender’s background and criminal record.

And other factors must also be weighed, including the need for general and specific deterrence and the rehabilitation of those who commit such crimes.

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Some may argue that the one-year sentence sought by Crown Prosecutor Robert Marquette was too light, while others might suggest it was too harsh.

Provincial Court Judge Margaret Keelaghan thought it was the latter, agreeing with defense attorney Adriano Iovinelli that the equivalent of more than nine months Jensen had spent behind bars since his arrest was an adequate sentence.

Keelaghan said in addition to the time Jensen has spent in pre-trial detention, he must serve a year of probation during which he is to seek treatment for underlying mental health issues.

Apparently Jensen, who has been living on the streets for about a decade, has some fundamental unresolved issues.

Surveillance video of him breaking the glass panes is interspersed with him throwing his worldly goods from his shopping cart off the bridge before finally throwing the shopping cart into the river as well.

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Iovinelli explained Jensen was angry at a world that kicked him to the curb while spending millions more than necessary on a pedestrian walkway.

But while anger may have fueled his vandalism, the fact that Jensen threw away pretty much what little he had in this world suggests he might have been at his wit’s end.

Mental illness is still something that the general public would rather turn a blind eye to than deal with directly.

And in Jensen’s case, his mental health was clearly a driving force behind his crime.

Yes, jailing him for a significant time may have satisfied the public’s need for retribution.

But solving this man’s mental health problems will ultimately be of far greater benefit to society as a whole.

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