Yellowknife man guilty of sex with underage students

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Warning: This report contains accounts of sex involving minors and references to rape.

Joshua Desjarlais had a “willful blindness” to the ages of three teenage girls, a court heard, as they shared hard drugs, alcohol, and sex at his Yellowknife apartment.

Justice Shannon Smallwood said she had the impression Desjarlais was "not concerned about their ages at all" as she found the 27-year-old man guilty on three counts of sexual assault.

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“The Crown has proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused did not take all the reasonable steps to ascertain the age of any of the defendants," said Smallwood. "Therefore I find him guilty on all counts.”

Desjarlais, known by his nickname Taz, will be sentenced at a later date.

At his trial in February, two of the three complainants testified. None seemed eager to tell their stories. Some abruptly left the witness room where they were testifying via video before finishing their testimony.

However, Smallwood said, there was enough evidence provided and the defence agreed to several statements of fact.

The judge also had a taped statement Desjarlais gave to police, in which he admitted to sex with the teens but said it had been consensual – and, he said, they had told him they were 18 or 19 years old.

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The court heard Desjarlais believed Canada's age of consent to be 15. A person must in fact be 16 or older to legally consent to sex.

The only exception can be if their partner is fewer than five years older, and not in a position of trust or authority.

'Kind of a joke'

The offences took place in September 2017. Authorities were alerted after the mother of one of the girls discovered what had been happening in Desjarlais’ apartment.

The three girls, whose identities are protected by a court order, repeatedly visited Desjarlais’ apartment after leaving their Yellowknife high school. Sometimes they were all there, at other times only one or two visited.

Desjarlais was 25 at the time.

Other adults were also at the apartment at times. No charges against them have been laid.

At the apartment, the court heard, cocaine, cannabis, and alcohol were liberally consumed. In a bedroom, a variety of sex acts took place.

The judge, reading from her decision, referred to one of the girls describing a "gang rape" after which she vomited while leaving the apartment.

However, some of the girls testified the sex was consensual, while one said Desjarlais agreed to stop on one occasion when asked.

At issue was whether Desjarlais knew the girls' age, and if he did enough to find out whether they were 16 or older.

The court heard the topic of the teens’ age did not come up often, and some were prepared to lie if it did. Two of the girls recalled discussing their jobs at a city restaurant, but not talking about their being high-school students.

One of the teens admitted she told Desjarlais she was 18, as “kind of a joke.”

They did not wear clothing emblazoned with the name of the school, but did often show up at Desjarlais’ apartment with backpacks. One once brought her own cannabis, bong, and alcohol.

Smallwood said one of the girls showed off a tongue piercing in an Instagram photo in 2017, in which she could be seen wearing heavy eye makeup which – the judge said – made her look older. (The legal age to have your tongue pierced in Alberta, where the girl claimed her tongue had been pierced, is 16, the court heard.)

'You need to do more'

The teens were introduced to Desjarlais through one of the group, who had met him by chance on the street.

“We just met and I got his phone number,” the court was told by the girl. “We were just talking and he said I was cute, and that we should go on a date sometime, to the movies or just for a drive.

"At first I said, ‘I’m probably too young,’ but I went.”

Her age never came up again between the two. She thought he was “20-something.”

Desjarlais, in custody and wearing a white dress shirt, showed no emotion when Smallwood pronounced him guilty.

Outside court, Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane said it was apparent Desjarlais knew there was a risk he could be having sex with underage girls.

“You don’t need to look at somebody’s driver's licence, but you need to do more than what was done in this case," said Fane.

"You heard Her Honour state he took no reasonable steps of any kind [to ascertain the girls’ ages]. That’s something that children lie about."