A Beaufort Delta man was sentenced to 14 months in jail on Monday after sexually assaulting a sleeping teenager in August 2018.
NWT Supreme Court heard the 24-year-old man, “blackout drunk,” was caught in the teenager’s room by a family member and thrown out of the house.
The 17-year-old girl remains both ashamed and angry, the court heard on Monday. The man and community are not being identified to protect the girl’s identity.
Since he committed the crime, the man stopped drinking and joined a recovery group and a church, the court was told. He regularly sees a counsellor and got married to a woman in January 2020. The couple had a baby last fall.
The 14-month sentence will be followed by 30 months of supervised probation. Following that verdict, the man and woman tearfully hugged before officers led him away.
Justice Shannon Smallwood said the oral sexual assault had a “profound” and “permanent” effect on the victim.
“It has led to her dropping out of school, feeling ashamed, embarrassed, guilty and depressed,” the judge said, quoting from a victim impact statement.
“When she has seen [her attacker] in the community, she has felt fear … it has left her shaking and afraid it will happen again.
“At the same time, she seems determined to overcome what has happened to her and I hope this sentencing today will … allow her to move to the next phase in overcoming what has been done to her.”
Smallwood noted the sexual assault of women who have passed out or are sleeping occurs all too frequently.
“Many young women in the Northwest Territories have been sexually abused in places where they should feel safe and in situations where they are vulnerable,” she said.
“Through no fault of their own, they are victimized – often by men who are under the influence of alcohol.”
Pastor travelled to sentencing
Crown prosecutor Jacqueline Halliburn had argued for an 18-month jail sentence followed by two years of supervised probation.
“When I was preparing for this sentencing, I found myself asking … if we accept that this accused has rehabilitated himself – and I do – then what is left for this sentence to accomplish?” she said.
“It is still a sexual assault, and the principles of general denunciation and general deterrence still have to be accomplished by this sentence.”
Halliburn noted the man has a limited criminal record with only one assault entry.
Defence lawyer Kate Oja said a 12-month sentence would be suitable, followed by probation of between two and three years that could include a curfew.
“This is a situation where rehabilitation, to a very large degree, has already occurred – and is continuing to occur,” she said, adding the man “has taken it upon himself to make some very significant changes to his life.”
Oja noted the man has “incredible support” from his family, many community members, and his pastor, who travelled to Yellowknife for the sentencing hearing.
The starting point of sentencing for what the court deems a major sexual assault in the NWT is three years. The judge must take into account the fact the accused is Indigenous. The longstanding Gladue principle requires that judges consider systemic factors that may have played a part in bringing an Indigenous offender before the courts and sentence them accordingly.
In this case, the court also had to consider the victim was a minor, was sleeping, and is Indigenous herself.
‘I realize I deserve punishment’
The man pleaded guilty on what was to be the first day of the trial. There was no preliminary hearing.
Delays in sentencing in this case were attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent slowdown of the justice system last year.
A further delay happened when the man’s father, a residential school survivor, died by suicide last fall, on the same day the couple’s baby was born.
Asked if he had anything to say to the court, the man apologized to the victim, who was listening to the hearing over the phone, and to his family, which includes a son he had several years ago.
“I realize I deserve punishment for the hurt and pain I brought on [the victim]. I am so sorry,” he said. “I would also like to say I am not the same person [now] that I was in 2018.
“I am still struggling with feelings of anger and resentment for my upbringing, but my counsellor reminds me that I can’t undo the past.”
In addition to his jail sentence, while on probation the man is ordered not to contact or communicate with the victim and to leave any place he might enter if she is there.
He will have to provide a DNA sample for the national crime databank and be on the sex offenders’ registry for 20 years.
He will have to abstain from illegal drugs and alcohol, take counselling, and be barred from having firearms for 10 years.