Priest pleads guilty to drunk driving

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Minimum sentence handed out for Fr. Joseph LeClair

Guelph Today

26 July 2016

An alcoholic who spent eight months in prison for fraud in 2014, Fr. Joseph LeClair, an associate pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Guelph, pleaded guilty Monday to impaired driving.

He was sentenced to the minimum — a $1,000 fine with a $300 surcharge added on, and will be prohibited from driving for one year.

Ontario Court of Justice courtroom heard that this was LeClair’s first conviction for driving while under the influence of alcohol, but that his problems with addiction have contributed to previous criminal activity.

Justice MLD Roberts said in court that it would be a costly undertaking for LeClair to regain his driving privileges once his term of suspension is served. His auto insurance will skyrocket.

LeClair, 58, was represented by Guelph attorney Matthew Stanley. The priest was charged on the late evening of May 21 after his Volkswagen car was stopped at an Ontario Provincial Police RIDE check on the Hanlon Expressway.

According to the agreed statement of facts read in court he was observed to have the scent of alcohol on his breath, glassy eyes, slurred speech, and that he fumbled for his documents. He was taken to the Rockwood detachment of Wellington County OPP where two tests showed an average blood/alcohol content of 150 milligrams/100 millilitres of blood. The maximum legal blood alcohol content in Canada is 80 mg/100 ml of blood.

In court Monday morning, Stanley said his client is attending addiction counseling, visits a psychiatrist on a regular basis, and has lately shared his addiction struggles with a group of high school students.

“He hasn’t backed away,” Stanley said. “He is trying to make a positive out of it.”

LeClair’s early plea and the fact he had no previous record for the offense, were taken into account in Justice Roberts sentencing. She said the minimum fine and driving prohibition was appropriate. Other than speaking the word “guilty,” LeClair did not speak further in court.

“You are the example for your community,” Roberts said. “Think of the kind of example you want to make.” She warned LeClair that another conviction for drunk driving could land him in prison for up to five years.

Known as “Father Joe” in the parishes where he has served, LeClair has been characterized as a popular priest. Originally from Tignish on the northern tip of Prince Edward Island, he came to Guelph from Moncton in May, 2015. He had been assigned by the church to a parish in Moncton after serving an eight-month prison sentence for stealing $130,000 from an Ottawa-area church.

The money was feeding a gambling addiction that had left the priest with credit card debt amounting to $490,000, according to an Ottawa Citizen investigation.

6 Responses to Priest pleads guilty to drunk driving

  1. Eleanor Weldon says:

    I fèel for Fr. Joe and want him to know it only works one day at a time. I am praying for him.

  2. Eleanor Weldon says:

    Peace to Fr. Joe as he struggles with his addiction. One day at a time. You are worthy of all God’s love and his help. A friend of Bill.

  3. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Eleanor – we are ALL worthy of God’s love and help, and that includes the parishioners that Joe defrauded. Don’t forget them! Mike.

  4. Larry & andrea says:

    Andrea and I are praying for you, We still love you
    from NB

    • jj says:

      Alcoholic or not – at least he didn’t kill anyone while galavanting around drunk behind the wheel. He probably wouldn’t be quite so “loved” if he had taken out a family-filled van… According to the MADD Canada website:

      “Crashes involving alcohol and/or drugs are the leading criminal cause of death in Canada. On average, approximately 4 people are killed each day in crashes involving alcohol and/or drugs.

      In 2012, there were 2,546 crash deaths. Of those, 1,497 deaths, or 58.8%, involved drivers who had some alcohol and/or drug presence in their systems.”

  5. Roch says:

    Another very disturbing turn of events. Joe Leclair’s job is to provide the moral and ethical direction to a congregation. He continues to demonstrate his inadequacy. I have heard enough of the “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers as you struggle through your addiction”. The bishop who is responsible for him ought to take action and refer him to another line of work.

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