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'Bad Santa' pharmacy robberies driven by immorality, not addiction: judge

Customers were 'terrorized, threatened with a knife, threatened with a gun or some other weapon,' judge notes during sentencing hearing
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A judge ruled today a series of pharmacy robberies were driven by "immorality" and not addiction. He noted how one of the bandits even followed coverage of his crimes in the news. 

Robert Collings and Cole Boardman were sentenced Wednesday for their roles in a string of pharmacy robberies in Bradford and York Region which happened between Oct. 31, 2016, and Jan. 17, 2017.

The first pharmacy robbed was the Simcoe Guardian Pharmacy on Holland Street East in Bradford. Two men, armed with knives, stole cash and drugs.

South Simcoe police identified two suspects, one of whom was subsequently linked to other pharmacy robberies in York Region.

A three-month investigation by South Simcoe police, the York Regional Police Hold-Up Unit and the OPP led to the arrest of the two Bradford men on Jan. 26, 2017.

The execution of search warrants resulted in the seizure of cash, weapons, and drugs that included heroin, cocaine and fentanyl patches.

Collings, who was 26 at the time of the crimes, was convicted in January on five counts of robbery and numerous drug charges, including possession and possession for the purpose of trafficking. He has remained in custody since his arrest.

Boardman was convicted of one count of robbery, robbery with a weapon, and drug charges that included possession and possession for the purpose of trafficking. Boardman, who was 21 at the time of the robbery, has spent 133 days in pretrial custody, and has been under house arrest while awaiting sentencing.

In Barrie court on Wednesday morning, Boardman sat on a bench with his counsel, while Collings, initially led into the room in handcuffs, sat in the prisoner’s box. Both were neatly dressed and well-groomed.

Justice Jonathan Bliss, in a lengthy statement, noted that pharmacists and customers were “terrorized, threatened with a knife, threatened with a gun or some other weapon,” during the string of pharmacy robberies in Bradford, Nobleton, King City, Schomberg and Keswick.

Bliss said the acts were driven by “immorality,” demonstrated by a series of text messages exchanged by the two men, the judge said, in which “both abandoned any sense of concern” over their actions.

While both men could be described as “youthful first offenders,” Justice Bliss made a clear distinction between the two.

Boardman, Bliss said, had participated in only one robbery, although armed with a knife.

After his arrest, Boardman confessed his complicity to the arresting officer and expressed remorse. He has not only pursued rehabilitation, but has complied with all of the conditions of his bail, court heard.

“He is drug-free, he is working full-time… and he has the support of his family,” said the judge.

Collings continued to rob pharmacies without Boardman's assistance, not only researching possible targets across South Simcoe and York Region, but following the news coverage of his own robberies.

He wore a Santa disguise while robbing a Nobleton pharmacy, leading to the headline: 'Bad Santa robs pharmacy,' and used the same disguise when robbing a pharmacy in King City days later.

“These were not robberies conducted haphazardly,” Justice Bliss concluded.

The level of planning and research “says a great deal about how his criminality was ego-driven… He stole and robbed to make money and to support a lifestyle," the judge added. 

During the final robbery, of the Keswick Shoppers Drugmart on Jan. 17, 2017, Collings “manhandled” the pharmacist, and threatened a customer who tried to intervene, the justice said.

Collings then fled from police, driving through a residential area in “fog, mist and rain” at speeds that exceeded 100 kilometres per hour in a 50 km/h zone, running a red light before police called off the pursuit.

The vehicle was eventually recovered, along with a knife which had Collings’ fingerprint on it.

Unlike Boardman, when Collings was arrested, he initially denied involvement and resisted arrest. 

Defense had asked for a non-custodial sentence for Boardman, suggesting he has a Metis background and that alternative measures would be appropriate.

Collings’ counsel asked for no more than six to eight years for his client, who has been in custody for 1,001 days, and who is now drug-free, and expresses remorse for his actions.  

Justice Bliss denied the claim of Metis heritage, noting that there's no evidence in support, but acknowledged Boardman’s “chaotic childhood” at home and in foster care, and his rehabilitation. He now lives with family, away from the Bradford area.

“He deserves considerable credit for his expressions of responsibility,” said the judge, but the severity of the offences requires additional jail time.

Justice Bliss sentenced Boardman to 42 months in prison, with credit for 133 days pretrial custody, and 28 months under house arrest, making the actual sentence is two years less a day. Boardman was also placed on probation for three years.

Noting that it’s “troubling” that Boardman has expressed a desire to return to Bradford, where he was involved in the drug culture, Justice Bliss also ordered him to “live at a place approved by the probation office," to have no contact with Collings, and to participate in any ordered assessment or rehabilitation programs.

Collings, who committed five robberies over a period of 83 days, and researched additional targets, was sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison, the judge breaking down how much time was allocated for each conviction for robbery, drugs, and the flight from police, and allowing credit for the 1,001 days he has spent in custody.

Collings was also given a lifetime weapons prohibition, and ordered to provide a DNA sample.

“I have no doubt Mr. Collings and Mr. Boardman are not the same people they were in 2016 and 2017,” said Justice Bliss. “I wish you both the best of luck.”

Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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