The Penticton man who confessed to setting off bombs in 2021 will spend 270 days in jail.
Blair Robert Balch, 50, who previously stated to the media that he was “not a terrorist,” appeared in Penticton court to hear his fate on Nov. 21.
“I’m sorry a thousand times over, it was stupid of course,” Balch told the court on Monday. “I regret doing what I did, and I didn’t do anything since. I just don’t want to lose my housing and I apologize for scaring the public.”
He had previously pleaded guilty to mischief and to creating three explosive devices, two of which he was able to detonate and a third that failed he threw in Ellis Creek. He also pleaded guilty to driving while prohibited on a scooter down Penticton’s Main Street.
The bombs had been set off in the early hours at Kings Park and on the playground of Carmi Elementary School.
Sentencing for the case had been delayed twice since June 2022, to allow for additional information regarding several other explosives found at the time, which Balch stated did not belong to him.
An expert from the RCMP’s explosive unit was contacted and his report was submitted into evidence on Monday. The report stated that it was “plausible” that the same person made all six bombs, however, could not definitively say they were all built by one person.
Crown admitted to the court that without Balch’s confession, they wouldn’t have had enough evidence to connect him to the three bombs he pleaded guilty to creating. There was no DNA evidence or fingerprints left on any of the recovered devices.
As a result, Crown felt that they couldn’t meet the burden of proof necessary to have Balch sentenced for all six explosive devices.
The case also took a turn when Judge Greg Koturbash raised the question of Carmi Elementary’s enhanced security measures that were introduced in 2022. One of the explosions took place in the park outside the school, and the failed bomb was tossed in Ellis Creek nearby.
Balch’s lawyer argued that it would be unfair to attribute the security changes to the bombs from a year before.
Judge Koturbash did make it clear in his reasoning for the sentence that he agreed that Balch’s actions did not directly contribute to the increased security, however, the impact could not be ignored.
“It is impossible to measure the anxiety that children and parents must have felt. Last month the school district made the uncomfortable decision to lock the doors at Carmi during the school day, because of undesirable activity in and around the school. It was a sad day for the students and staff at the school and for our community,” said Koturbash. “The fact that the school has had to take such extreme measures speaks volumes about the consequences of people engaging in undesirable behave in and around schools.”
Among the factors that went into his decision, Koturbash noted that while Balch had been described as an impulsive man, this situation had shown planning and patience as it required Balch to search out the plans for the explosives, gather the materials, assemble the devices and then arrange to set them off.
Other factors under consideration included the lack of a single isolated incident, the proximity to places where children play, and how he is unable to work as he has lived with serious health issues which leave him easily tired.
On top of the 270 days in jail, Balch will also have to pay $775 in victim surcharges for his crimes. Judge Koturbash declined to waive them despite Balch being on a limited income.
Crown prosecution had reduced their request of 13 months of jail for all six explosives down to seven to 10 months of jail time for Balch, based in part on his previous extensive criminal record of 87 convictions. At the time of the explosions, Balch was under a lifetime prohibition against possessing explosive substances.
The defence had requested a conditional sentence of 15 to 18 months, or an intermittent sentence instead.
A probation sentence was requested by Crown to follow the jail sentence, but Judge Koturbash deemed it a waste of money.
“Mr. Balch has been on probation for most of his adult life and I see little utility in spending further resources and taxpayer dollars which are better served on people who actually want to make a change,” said Koturbash.
According to the pre-sentencing psychological report, he is a moderate to high risk for violence, and that increases to a high risk if he is under the influence of substances or under stress. It also was noted during Koturbash’s decision that Balch had refused anger management and substance abuse treatment.
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