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It was an accidental and ironic twist befitting a tabloid true-crime story: The Notorious Yuletide Bandit, Michael Syrnyk, was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Christmas Eve.

The stiff sentence from provincial Judge Charles Newcombe was enough of a gift for the Crown, despite its request that Mr. Syrnyk be sentenced to life in prison with no parole for at least 10 years.

The sentence was reduced to 21 years and six months because of time served. Mr. Syrnyk, 33, will not be eligible for parole for more than seven years.

Don Slough, director of appeals for Manitoba's Justice Department, said that he is pleased, and bank employees and armoured-car guards likely would enjoy a merrier Christmas with Mr. Syrnyk behind bars.

Many of Mr. Syrnyk's more than 20 robberies were committed during a succession of Christmas seasons, earning him the Yuletide Bandit nickname. It had become an almost annual event for holiday shoppers in Winnipeg to dive for cover when Mr. Syrnyk staged his daring daylight robberies, trading shots with armoured-car guards.

"It was a small miracle . . . no shoppers were shot," Judge Newcombe said. "Mr. Syrnyk was prepared to risk the life of man, woman, child, the elderly and the infirm alike."

The robber led a double life as a devoted son and brother in what appears to be a normal, working-class family in west Winnipeg. For a few years, he worked alongside his father as a butcher.

His heists netted him about $300,000, which he spent on drugs and prostitutes.

Judge Newcombe said the repeated gunplay that accompanied his robberies, particularly his shooting at police just before his capture, had to be dealt with severely. "They [police officers]risk injury and worse to stand between us and criminals. So we are obliged as a society to respect and protect them."

His almost eight-year career began with a break-in at a sporting-goods store, to arm himself with the shotguns and handguns that became the tools of his trade.

Mr. Syrnyk targeted banks and credit unions before switching to armoured cars. He said he made the change because he felt more comfortable robbing male guards rather than female bank tellers.

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