Life / Health

Quebec sweating death: three co-accused lose appeal of their convictions

MONTREAL — Three Quebecers have lost an appeal of their conviction in connection with the extreme-sweating death of a woman who was wrapped in mud and cellophane at a personal-growth seminar.

The Quebec Court of Appeal has also refused to hear an appeal of the prison sentences imposed on Gabrielle Frechette, Ginette Duclos and Gerald Fontaine.

The court has ordered them to head to prison by Nov. 17 for the death of Chantal Lavigne as well in the case of another woman who survived the harrowing experience.

Lavigne, 35, died in July 2011 after a sweating session organized by the accused.

Participants were plastered with mud, wrapped in a plastic sheet and a blanket and had their heads covered with cardboard boxes for nine hours.

A coroner described the process as the equivalent of being cooked alive.

The accused were found guilty in December 2014 of criminal negligence causing death and were sentenced in January 2016.

Frechette, who was considered a spiritual guide and organized the seminar in Durham-Sud, was sentenced to three years, while her two assistants were handed two-year prison terms.

"The evidence shows beyond all reasonable doubt that the acts reflected a wild and reckless lack of concern with regard to the life and safety of the victims," Quebec court Judge Helene Fabi wrote in 2014.

The three were also found guilty of criminal negligence causing bodily harm in the case of one other person, while other people attending the seminar also fell ill.

The appeal alleged, however, that the trial judge erred in concluding their behaviour constituted a marked and considerable departure from how a reasonable person would have behaved in the same circumstances.

But Justice Patrick Healy, on behalf of a three-member appeals court panel, wrote Tuesday that the sentences "are not unfit."

"They are not only within an acceptable range; they are arguably lenient," Healy said. "Second, there is no error of principle and there is no failure to consider a relevant matter of fact or a guiding principle of sentencing.

"The sentencing judge provides a thorough review of factual considerations relevant to each of the appellants."

Frechette's lawyer, Richard Dube, said he is studying the possibility of seeking permission from the Supreme Court of Canada to have it look at the case with the goal of having the guilty verdict struck down.

 

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