Yellowknife

Former YK gymnastics coach forgoes bail as he awaits sentence


Former city bylaw officer and gymnastics coach Ricky Lee Sutherland is now behind bars, deciding on Monday to forgo bail until his sentencing for internet luring on August 18.

The surprise move came at the end of a morning-long constitutional challenge in Supreme Court, in opposition to the one-year mandatory minimum sentence for luring by communicating electronically with a person under the age of 18 years.

Sutherland, 50, pleaded guilty to that charge in May before returning to Ontario, where he now lives. He flew back to Yellowknife on Sunday night.

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At the end of the morning hearing, Sutherland’s lawyer – Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass – told Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau her client wished to go into custody until being sentenced.

At a brief hearing in June, court heard Sutherland was having trouble affording flights to Yellowknife as he has been caring for a sick relative on the East Coast.

Those on remand awaiting sentencing also earn 1.5 days’ credit for every day inside – to be used at sentencing – compared to nothing for those granted bail.

City records show Sutherland was hired as a constable in February 2015. It’s not clear when he left the city’s employ.

Sutherland was taken on by the Yellowknife Gymnastics Club in July 2016. When attending a sports conference in Toronto in February 2017, he used Snapchat to send an explicit photo of himself to a girl he coached.

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Snapchat content is only available for a short time before it disappears. However, the teen quickly “drew a facsimile” of what she saw.

She later used a mobile phone camera to capture other messages Sutherland sent to her.

In a victim impact statement, the girl – who is entitled to anonymity –described her life becoming a nightmare after receiving the lurid material from her coach, who she considered as one of her “best friends.”

“I blame myself for trusting you. You gradually built up my trust, just to take it away,” she said, adding she has sought psychiatric counselling.

In challenging the constitutionality of the one-year mandatory minimum, Whitecloud-Brass said it amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment” as the crime to which her client pleaded guilty casts a wide net over a number of more egregious acts.

“On the face, the offence involves a 50-year-old man communicating with a 17-year-old female for the purpose of facilitating the commission of secondary offence,” she said, disputing the Crown’s suggestion it could affect the victim’s life immeasurably.

“This may be true,” she said. “However, we truly don’t know the impact. Although the victim provided a victim impact statement, we don’t know the depths of conversations she claims to have had with doctors and psychiatrists.

“Defence counsel is not trying to downplay the effects, only trying to remind the court of what is factual.”

Whitecloud-Brass said a sentence of three to nine months would be appropriate for Sutherland.

Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane countered with a suggestion he would seek a sentence of 18 months on August 18.

He noted Parliament has consistently increased both the maximum and minimum penalties for the crime since it was created in 2002, to correspond with the impact the internet has on daily lives, including those of young people.

“These are the things you don’t do,” he said. “Society abhors this conduct and wants to criminalize it. Parliament has said this is a crime, this is an offence.”

Justice Charbonneau will deliver her ruling on the constitutional challenge on Friday.

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