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Conditional discharge for threatening with knife

Accused tells court he is ‘still trying to piece together why that night happened’
Kamloops Law Courts

A man will not have a criminal record after he brandished a knife at a gas station employee in Merritt and threatened to kill her.

John Russell Chaffe, 31, pleaded guilty in Kamloops provincial court to uttering threats and possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose in connection with the August 2022 incident.

Court heard that late on the night of Aug. 25, 2022, Chaffe entered the Canco gas station on Nicola Avenue in Merritt carrying a concealed eight-centimetre-long knife.

Crown prosecutor Evan Goulet said Chaffe entered the store and left without buying anything. Chaffe then came back inside, at which point the employee asked if he needed help.

“At that point, she saw a knife in his right hand he seemed to be concealing,” Goulet said.

The employee then asked Chaffe to leave and he replied that he had a knife and could kill her.

“And then he brandished the knife at her and challenged her to call police,” Goulet said, adding Chaffe left the store and walked down a back alley, shouting “I will kill you.”

Later in the employee’s shift, Chaffe returned. The employee hid behind gas pumps when she spotted him a nd called the police.

Goulet said police arrived and, at gunpoint, arrested Chaffe, who repeatedly apologized and said he did not have a weapon on him. Police searched him and found the knife in his back pocket. Chaffe admitted that he had been heavily drinking that night.

Goulet recommended Chaffe be placed on 12 months of probation, while defence counsel Marcel LaFlamme asked for an 18-month probation term and a conditional discharge to keep Chaffe from having a criminal record, noting his client had adhered to similar bail conditions since October 2022. He said Chaffe lives on income assistance and has children.

The threat of death was an aggravating factor, while Chaffe’s lack of a criminal record was a mitigating one, Goulet said.

Addressing the court in person, Chaffe said he was sorry and embarrassed about the incident.

“I’m still trying to piece together why that night happened because it’s totally out of character. I know the alcohol played a big factor,” Chaffe said, noting he has been sober for 90 days.

Judge Marianne Armstrong told Chaffe his crimes were “horrible,” noting the high-risk situation in which minimum wage employees work.

“I can only imagine how terrifying that would feel as a late night, isolated worker,” Armstrong said.

The judge said it is “problematic” not to know how the incident came to be, but did not feel it was against public interest to impose a conditional discharge.

“Was it a robbery gone wrong? Was it just a moment of anger?” Armstrong asked.
She sided with the defence, issuing a conditional discharge with an 18-month probation term. If Chaffe breaches those terms, he could face a conviction.

As part of his probation, Chaffe must have no contact with the employee he threatened and cannot attend the Merritt Canco gas station. He is prohibited from possessing weapons and must undergo a psychiatric assessment and counselling for alcohol addiction.