Priest from P.E.I. sentenced to one year in jail

Published on March 20, 2014

A priest from Prince Edward Island, who stole more than $130,000 from an Ottawa church, will be spending one year behind bars.
Father Joseph LeClair of Tignish is the former pastor of Blessed Sacrament in the Glebe area of Ottawa.

Ontario Court Justice Jack Nadelle also sentenced LeClair in court Wednesday morning to one year of probation after his release from jail.

Nadelle said that although LeClair's crimes were fuelled by a gambling addiction, the charge of fraud over $5,000 is a serious offence.

The amount that LeClair stole was on the low end of a large-scale fraud, Nadelle said.

"The fact that the accused was in a position of trust is the most aggravating factor," Nadelle told a packed courtroom. "Every time he took some money, he was committing a criminal offence."

LeClair, 57, pleaded guilty on Jan. 20 to theft and fraud more than a year after the Ottawa Citizen newspaper raised concerns about financial irregularities at the church and LeClair's gambling.

Nadelle told the court that even when LeClair's gambling and the financial irregularities at his church were exposed in the Citizen, he told parishioners he did not steal money from the parish.

"He lied to his parishioners," Nadelle said, adding that LeClair deflected blame from himself.

Nadelle said he considered that LeClair pleaded guilty, went to rehab and has a solid support system when he was determining the length of his sentence. Nadelle said he also took into account that LeClair was diagnosed as a "pathological gambler."

LeClair's lawyer also submitted 200 letters of support for the former Blessed Sacrament pastor.

After LeClair's sentencing, he was moved to another courtroom to say goodbye to the dozens of friends and family who came to court to support him.

Media were kicked out of the gathering in courtroom No. 8 by angry parishioners.

Father and daughter Frank and Joanne Licari, both parishioners and both staunch Father Joe supporters, said they were surprised at the severity of the sentence.

"The judge came down pretty hard," said Frank Licari. "I was surprised at the jail term, especially its length, and would like to have seen more emphasis on community service."

He was also critical of Archbishop Terrence Prendergast for not intervening with Father Joe before his addiction problems spiralled out of control and the archdiocese for not having more effective policies in place to deal with church employees who have personal problems.

In a statement released before LeClair's sentencing, the archdiocese said it would not comment on the outcome.