Yellowknife

Minimum term for internet luring constitutional, says judge


Former Yellowknife bylaw officer and gymnastics coach Ricky Lee Sutherland will spend at least one year in jail after a judge denied his charter challenge on Friday.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau had on Monday heard arguments over the constitutionality of 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. He will be sentenced by Charbonneau on August 19.

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“I have decided to dismiss the application … the mandatory minimum sentence does not offend the charter,” said Charbonneau, adding she will “as soon as possible” have a full written decision made available for lawyers to review.

“I do understand [my ruling] could create some controversy and that counsel may want to take further steps on it.”

Sutherland, 50 – who is now behind bars, deciding on Monday to forgo bail until his sentencing – showed no emotion when the decision was announced.

During Monday’s morning-long constitutional challenge in Supreme Court, defence lawyer Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass said the mandatory minimum amounted 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.

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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.

City of Yellowknife 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 17-year-old girl he coached. He also used other electronic means to communicate with the girl, violating the gymnastics club’s staff policy.

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.”

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