A year before a deadly Christmas Day apartment fire in Winnipeg, a judge said she was concerned the man now accused of setting the fire wasn't receiving enough support to keep him and the community safe.
Ethan Powderhorn, 26, has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder and four counts of arson with disregard for human life after an early morning fire at the Warwick Apartments, on Qu'Appelle Avenue at Carlton Street, trapped multiple residents in their suites.
Six people were taken to hospital after the Dec. 25 fire, two of whom later died.
A year earlier, Powderhorn appeared in a specialized court for people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder to plead guilty to two counts of arson, along with charges of mischief and possession of a weapon, for incidents that had happened months before.
At the Nov. 18, 2021, court hearing, Powderhorn admitted to setting a mattress on fire in a Sherbrook Street alley, and then a garage in the same area. That fire spread to a neighbouring house, but nobody was hurt in either of those fires.
Powderhorn told police after he was arrested that he had been "wronged" by people who lived at the locations where he set the fires, Crown attorney Jodi Koffman said at the hearing.
Provincial court Judge Heather Pullan expressed concerns that Powderhorn, who has a guardian through the provincial government, was highly vulnerable due to his FASD, was impulsive and required a lot of support.
"I'm really worried about gaps," Pullan said at the hearing. "The impression is that [the guardian's office is] very hands off, which is troubling."
Omri Plotnik, Powderhorn's defence lawyer, echoed concerns that the guardian's role in his client's life was limited.
"It doesn't need to be limited," Pullan said. "There is an opportunity of enhancing their involvement, and that's a matter of some concern."
Bryan Hyman, who works with Manitoba's Public Guardian and Trustee department, told the hearing his office doesn't have the capacity or the community contacts to provide the very detailed and personalized support people like Powderhorn need, and often delegates to other agencies.
Powderhorn was released from custody on Nov. 18, 2021, after his hearing, having already served several months in prison. Corrections officers were instructed to drop him off at the Salvation Army shelter, where he could sleep before his appointment with a parole officer the next day.
Pullan made it clear in the hearing that whoever brought Powderhorn to the shelter should ensure he got inside, got settled and connected with staff before they left him there, but the judge said she still wasn't confident in the plan.
Plotnik said Powderhorn would receive some supports through the non-profit Turning Leaf Support Services after his release, including help to find longer-term housing.