WINNIPEG -- A judge has ruled jail time is needed after a Winnipeg man pleaded guilty to six separate thefts from Manitoba Liquor Marts over the past year.

The sentencing occurred just a day before the Manitoba government publicly revealed a new initiative, called Operation Safe Streets, aimed at cracking down on repeat offenders of Liquor Mart thefts.

Arthur Desjarlais, 38, pleaded guilty to the charges on Nov. 27.

Provincial court Judge Sandra Chapman sentenced Desjarlais to 110 days in custody.

Chapman told court there are two schools of thought on how to respond to Liquor Mart thefts: either locking people up to protect society or putting resources in place to help people living with addiction.

“It appears to me this is something that has to do with a significant addictions issue that you have as a result of a lot of the difficulties you had in your upbringing,” Chapman told court during Desjarlais’s sentencing. “Really, we’re talking about stealing some bottles of liquor to drink. I’m afraid that we’ve been saying that for so many years that now everybody just thinks I can walk in and steal because the courts don’t think it’s that important.

“I don’t think that’s the message I can send out. I do think a jail sentence is appropriate.”

Court heard the six thefts occurred on Dec. 2, 2018, Jan. 21, 2019, May 9, 2019, May 18, 2019, May 21, 2019 and May 30, 2019 at four different Liquor Mart locations in Winnipeg.

The thefts involved Desjarlais leaving stores without paying for two bottles of alcohol in each incident – except for the Jan. 21 theft, which court heard involved Desjarlais and a couple of other people leaving a store without paying for six bottles of liquor.

Desjarlais was identified through in-store surveillance video in each theft. He was arrested on Apr. 25, 2019.

Court heard at the time of his arrest Desjarlais had just finished serving a sentence he received in Feb. 2019 for two other Liquor Mart thefts.

Defence lawyer Laura Robinson told court she’s not seeking a formal Gladue report but noted there are Gladue factors the court should know about. She told the judge Desjarlais has been diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, was physically abused by his mother as a child and ended up in foster care at age 11.

His grandparents and parents attended residential schools, Robinson told court.

More recently, court heard Desjarlais has suffered tragedy involving his own children. Robinson told court three of his eight children have died, including a daughter who was murdered and a son who was killed by a driver.

“One of his sons died about two years ago,” Robinson told court. “It was an impaired driving accident that an off-duty police officer’s now pleaded guilty to but that’s certainly been very difficult for Mr. Desjarlais and his family.”

The Crown had been seeking a sentence of 135 days.

Crown attorney James Wall told court there’s a high public interest in prosecution and sending a message to thieves. 

“We need to send a message to society, though, yes it has been happening a lot, we are taking it seriously and something is being done,” Wall told court. 

Last Thursday, Justice Minister Cliff Cullen announced a special prosecutor has been assigned to deal exclusively with Liquor Mart theft cases. Cullen said it’s part of an initiative that involves police, Liquor Marts and prosecutors that aims to help Crown attorneys effectively prosecute repeat offenders.