Ponoka Mayor Kevin Ferguson is lobbying the federal and provincial governments for changes to the justice system — particularly conditions for bail — after the death of a Ponoka mother in 2020.
Chantelle Firingstoney, 26, was found deceased in a residence on Nov. 5, 2020. The accused in her death, Ryan Jake Applegarth, was charged with second degree murder.
Ponoka News later reported that Applegarth had been out on bail at the time of Firingstoney’s death. He had already been charged with the first degree murder of a Wetaskiwin man, Jamison Samuel Louis. Louis, 34, was killed on Jan. 3, 2020.
After seeking approval from his fellow councillors to pursue the matter, Ferguson sent out a letter on Nov. 23, addressed to federal Minster of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti, and provincial Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu, and copied local MLA Ron Orr and MP Blaine Calkins on the message.
“The Town of Ponoka has recently experienced a murder that has shocked the conscience of our community,” Ferguson stated in the letter.
“So we are looking at two murders in two small neighbouring communities (allegedly) committed by one man in less than a space of a year. From our town’s perspective we have a dead mother and four children who will have to live with this for the rest of their lives.
“We ask ourselves as a community how did we get to this tragic point? One answer could be Bill C-75.”
Federal legislation Bill C-75, which clarifies bail provisions, received royal assent on June 21, 2019, and amendments relating to bail and administration of justice offences came into force on Dec. 18, 2019. The amendments in the act, under the Principal of Restraint, legislate that release at the “earliest reasonable opportunity” be favoured over detention (justice.gc.ca).
Ferguson’s letter asked questions about the circumstances around Applegarth’s release on bail and if the cases related to him could be reviewed.
Ferguson said the matter is important for several reasons, not the least of which being Firingstoney was a citizen of our town.
“She deserves our concern. She deserves our attention,” said Ferguson in an interview on Jan. 14.
Ferguson said it’s perhaps because of his background as a teacher that the idea of a mother being killed, leaving children behind, really bothers him.
“Children and mothers and the cornerstone of the future of any society,” said Ferguson, adding that belief is fundamental to him. “If we aren’t prepared to protect them, nothing else really matters.”
Ferguson added that if he had a relative in another town that was murdered, he would hope that the local powers-that-be would do whatever they could to make sure it didn’t happen again.
Making sure what happened to Firingstoney doesn’t happen to anyone else in Ponoka is what Ferguson said motivates him.
Ferguson said that after looking at the facts of the case, he didn’t believe it was a matter of needing to go after a particular judge, lawyer or the police.
“This is about a law, and I think we need to look at it,” he said. “All need to be fairly treated under the umbrella of the law, but sometimes when laws aren’t working, we need to look at them and challenge them.”
He received a response to his first letter from everyone except for Lametti, so he sent out another letter to Lametti on Jan. 5, 2022. He copied Conservative Shadow Cabinet Minister representing Justice, Rob Moore on the letter and is awaiting a response.
Ferguson noted a delay in response form the federal minister may have been due to the federal election.
“As far as my term as mayor, this isn’t something I intend to let go of. As long as I sit in this chair, I feel morally obligated to do something.”
The matter of Firingstoney’s death was also brought into the public eye by Ponoka RCMP detachment commander Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley, who spoke to council on the matter in February, 2021.
Smiley then faced some backlash for his comments from superiors.
“I was told very clearly that a member of the RCMP has no business criticizing the bench,” said Smiley. “To that I say they are probably right, but elected officials and citizens should be able to ask those hard questions of any of our social systems.”
The preliminary hearing for Applegarth for the second degree murder charge was scheduled for Nov. 2 and 3, 2021, but according to Firingstoney’s family, the date was postponed because Applegarth had symptoms of COVID-19.
It was then rescheduled for Nov. 16, but was again rescheduled due to poor road conditions that morning. It has now been set for March 16 and 17 at Ponoka Provincial Court.
The trial for the Wetaskiwin file is scheduled for Feb. 14 to 18, 2022, at the Wetaskiwin Court of Queen’s Bench.