A 59-year-old Northwest Territories man who had sex with a 15-year-old girl was sentenced this week to two years less a day in jail.
The case was the latest of a series heard in Yellowknife over the past year where older men – either through ignorance of the law or in “willful blindness,” as one court heard – didn’t take reasonable steps to determine an individual’s age before having sex.
On Monday, the NWT Supreme Court heard the man in the latest case invited a small group of people – including the teenage girl, visiting from another community – to drink at his residence in January 2018.
The man and girl were later left alone, said Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane. At that point, he assaulted her.
The identity of the man, and community, are being withheld to avoid providing any means by which the girl may be identified.
When police learned of the incident, the man told officers he “believed [the victim] was too young for him. He believed she was 17 or 18 years old,” said Fane.
“[He] did not take all reasonable steps to ascertain [her] age prior to the assault. He was almost four times as old as [the girl] at the time of the offence.”
Fane noted the victim had to testify at a preliminary hearing, via video link from the community where she lives, as the case was headed for a jury trial.
She would have been expecting to later testify in front of a jury – until the man subsequently decided to plead guilty.
“Her mother talks about her having cried all day after the assault,” said Fane. “[The girl] was feeling angry, depressed, sad, and scared – and, for a period of time, she attributes an increase in alcohol and drug intake as a way of coping.
“She says she did not realize what she was doing. She does not want [the man] to hurt anyone else.”
‘This should be met with stern condemnation’
This type of crime has a sentencing starting point of three years. However, Justice Louise Charbonneau took the man’s “very difficult” upbringing into consideration, including his being a survivor of physical and sexual abuse at residential school.
The court heard the man’s early memory is of his grandmother crying at the water’s edge as he was taken away – “kidnapped,” as he put it – to residential school as a child.
The longstanding Gladue principle, named after Cree woman Jamie Tanis Gladue, requires judges to take into consideration circumstances facing Indigenous peoples in order to arrive at an appropriate sentence.
The Crown and defence had a joint recommendation of two years less a day, so he would be able to serve his time in the North, where he could have access to culturally appropriate programming.
That would be followed by three years supervised probation, 20 years on the national sex offenders’ registry, and a 10-year firearm ban with an exemption for sustenance hunting. He would not be allowed in the presence of children under the age of 16 without a sober adult present.
“People ought to be aware that if they are going to be having intercourse … if they appear to be young, they have to take all reasonable steps to ascertain how old they are,” said Fane. “This type of exploitation should be met with stern condemnation.”
Defence lawyer Leslie Moore said the man is concerned people in his community will consider him to be a predator.
“He feels greatly ashamed,” said Moore. “He may not be an alcoholic, but … it’s alcohol that brings him before the court. This is a case of very bad judgment. And now he’s going to pay for it.
“[The man] now realizes he should have asked her for her age, he should have taken those steps – and he might have, had he been sober. But he wasn’t and she wasn’t sober either.
“That tells us what alcohol does to people under the influence. They do things that they might normally not have done.”