Guelph priest faces impaired driving charge

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A Guelph priest who previously spent eight months in jail for stealing and defrauding an Ottawa church will appear in Guelph court later this month charged with impaired driving.

Father Joe LeClair, 58, an associate pastor at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Paisley Road, was arrested at a spot check on the Hanlon Expressway by Wellington County OPP around noon on May 21.

“While speaking with a man driving a 2008 Volkswagen, signs of being impaired by alcohol were observed. He was arrested and taken to a local OPP Operations Centre for further testing,” said an OPP press release.

LeClair was charged with impaired driving, over 80 and having an open container of liquor in the car.

St. Joseph’s Pastor Leszek Szczygiel directed questions about LeClair, a popular associate pastor affectionately known as “Father Joe,” to the Diocese of Hamilton.

“We have no comment on that,” Szczygiel said.

The Diocese confirmed that LeClair has been at St. Joseph’s since May 2015 and that he remains an associate pastor at the church.

Request for further comment was not immediately responded to.

Despite his legal troubles, LeClair has had a faithful following at the churches he has worked at and has been credited with helping rejuvenate attendance at some of them.

In 2014 LeClair spent eight months in prison after he pleaded guilty to theft and fraud after a 2012 police investigation showed he stole at least $130,000 over a five-year span from Blessed Sacrament Church in Ottawa.

Court testimony detailed that LeClair was an alcoholic who stole the money to fuel a severe gambling addiction, with most of it spent at a nearby casino in Hull, Quebec.

In an apology read out in an Ottawa courtroom just prior to sentencing on those charges, LeClair expressed deep remorse.

“I have come a long way in understanding my addictions and my crimes and fully intend on continuing with my treatment as soon as I am able,” LeClair said in a written statement in 2014.

“I fully understand that the discipline necessary to overcome addictions is an ever mindful and lifelong commitment – and I am committed to waging this fight for the rest of my life.”

Following his release from jail, LeClair, a native of Prince Edward Island, was relocated to a church in Moncton for a short time before coming to Guelph in May, 2015.

He will appear in a Guelph court June 14 to answer the latest charges.

– with files from GuelphToday news services

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