Calling her showboating crime part of an “unnerving trend” that must be denounced, a Toronto judge has ordered Marcella Zoia — known as “chair girl” — to pay a $2,000 fine, perform 150 hours of community service and remain on probation for two years.
“Sadly, this is not the first instance of a harmful act being posted on some social media site for entertainment purposes and to gain publicity,” Justice Mara Greene said Tuesday as she delivered Zoia’s sentence via teleconference.
“A strong message must be sent to the community that engaging in dangerous acts as a means to garner attention and notoriety is unacceptable, and will lead to serious penalties.”
But the judge said after reviewing case law as well as aggravating and mitigating factors, such as Zoia’s relative youthful age and rehabilitative prospects, she decided against imposing a jail sentence of up to six months asked for by prosecutor Heather Keating.
Last November, Zoia pleaded guilty to a charge of mischief endangering life and apologized for throwing an Ikea chair from a condo tower near the busy Gardiner Expressway in February 2019. “It was only by sheer luck that someone was not hurt or killed,” Greene said.
Zoia admitted someone recorded the chair-tossing on her cellphone but denied posting it to her personal Snapchat account, where it went viral. Greene said it was clear she “committed a very dangerous act … for her own pleasure and vanity,” and put on “a show” for the camera — things the judge considered when deciding what sentence to impose.
At the last minute, Tuesday’s in-court sentencing hearing was switched to a teleconference, with Zoia listening from the Queen St. E. office of defence lawyer Greg Leslie.
Similar to her demeanour after her arrest, Zoia appeared animated and smiled for the cameras but said nothing after emerging from the office to jump into a waiting SUV and be driven away by a friend.
Leslie told the Star his client is “elated” the case is over, that she has suffered from “tremendous stress and anxiety” and is looking forward to the next stage in her life. “She wants to be a positive influence on young people everywhere,” he wrote in a text message.
He added the case is precedent setting, because it deals “with the problems and complexities and dangers of social media and how it can adversely affect peoples’ lives. Everybody has to be vigilant on how they navigate social media.”
The judge called Zoia an intelligent young woman who gained an increased following on her social media accounts but also suffered public shaming as a result of the incident, which was taken into account on sentencing.
Greene said it was difficult to identify a clear range of sentences for the offence of mischief endangering life because there are so few reported cases of that crime. Case law also encompasses a very wide range of behaviour, that make it hard to draw parallels between Zoia’s act and those of others, she noted.