Editor’s note: This story contains details about sexual assault some readers may find disturbing. Please use your own discretion.
A man in a small NWT community was sentenced Friday to two-years less a day for sexually assaulting his cousin in 2017.
Justice Shannon Smallwood told the court that she would reluctantly accept the lawyers’ joint position, though she noted the sentence to be lenient.
A publication ban prohibits NNSL Media from publishing any information that could identify the victim, including the offender’s name and the name of the community.
The assault took place when the victim passed out in the offender’s bed from intoxication. The man then undressed himself and his unconscious cousin to commit the rape and take photos of her naked lower half.
When a third party came to check on the victim, he found the man dressing and went to find the victim’s sister to rouse the unconscious woman. Upon entering the room, the sister noticed the camera and retrieved the memory card to give to police.
The trial for the offence was originally set for February 2021 but the man changed his plea to guilty before it began.
While the victim still had to testify at a preliminary inquiry ahead of trial, the judge and lawyers still noted the guilty plea as mitigating since the photos would have had to be shown had the matter proceeded to trial. An event that Smallwood said would likely have further traumatized the victim.
In her victim impact statement, the woman wrote that since the assault she has experienced feelings of anxiety, depression and difficulty trusting others. She worries about who is around her young son and has been using alcohol more than usual.
She wrote that she would like to go to counselling but through the ongoing pandemic has faced difficulties in doing so.
“It hurts me that a family member that had been around my whole life could hurt me like that,” she wrote. “Many family members don’t talk to me now. I don’t know why they don’t talk to me.”
Smallwood acknowledged prior comments the Crown made about the photographs in her decision. Prosecutor Morgan Fane noted in his submissions that in the Internet era these photos could have been disseminated to the public in a series of events that would render it impossible to “put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak.”
Instead, only RCMP officers, legal counsel on the file and the judge saw the photos out of necessity for the case; a factor he considered mitigating.
Smallwood responded that while “I suppose it’s not as bad as it could have been,” those who viewed the images are still strangers looking at intimate photos taken while the victim was at her most vulnerable.
The court heard that a number of letters of support were submitted indicating the offender is a valued member of the community. Defence lawyer Jay Bran told the court that the offence was out of character for the man.
Smallwood noted the man’s prior conviction for driving under the influence and the fact that alcohol has brought him before the courts in the past.
The offender, who apologized before the court, said that he is committed to maintaining sobriety moving forward and that he has abstained from alcohol for periods of several years in the past.
“Being here isn’t a reflection of who I am,” he said. “ I’m a hunter, a brother, a father, a son. I made a bad choice, I hope the court shows me leniency in regards to this matter.”
Once released from custody, the man will be placed on probation for a period of three years. He will be required to report to a probation officer, participate in treatment and counselling and abstain completely from the consumption or possession of alcohol or non-prescription drugs.
He will be registered as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Information Registration Act (SOIRA) for 20 years and will be prohibited from using firearms for 10 years with the exception of use for sustenance hunting.
The man is barred from contacting the victim as a condition of his sentence.
Fane told the court he and Bran are requesting the RCMP destroy the memory card used to take photos during the assault.