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Behchoko man sentenced after sexually assaulting unconscious woman

A Behchoko man was sentenced in NWT Supreme Court Thursday, after sexually assaulting a woman unconscious from alcohol consumption. Natalie Pressman/NNSL Photo

A Behchoko man was sentenced Thursday on sexual assault charges after hijacking a parked car and assaulting the passenger. 

In December 2018, two women were driving in Behchoko. They stopped at the convenience store and the driver got out of the car to go inside and that’s when the offender entered the car, drove off and assaulted the passenger. 

A publication ban prevents NNSL from disclosing any information that might identify the victim, including the offender’s name. 

A Behchoko man was sentenced in NWT Supreme Court Thursday, after sexually assaulting a woman unconscious from alcohol consumption. Natalie Pressman/NNSL Photo

Both the offender and victim were highly under the influence of alcohol. The victim had blacked out and woke up to the offender assaulting her in the back of the car.

The Criminal Code allows for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison for crimes of major sexual assault. Justice Andrew Mahar sentenced the offender to 25 months in prison with 753 days already served (502 real days with a credit of one-and-a-half days for each day detained before sentencing), leaving only seven more days in custody for the offender. 

The sentencing at the NWT Supreme Court took into account a pre-sentencing report (PSR) as well as the Gladue factors at play. 

The offender’s criminal record shows two prior charges of assault causing bodily harm, though no prior sexual assault charges have been laid. 

In the PSR – a report that examines an offender’s history to determine possible extenuating circumstances of sentencing – the offender said that his entire criminal record is related to alcohol. 

Defence counselor Leslie Moore told the court that the offender said if he was sober he would never have done this. The offender was so intoxicated that he didn’t remember the events of the assault himself. He heard the victim testify at a preliminary inquiry, which jogged his memory, and plead guilty shortly thereafter. 

Mahar told the court that “gross amounts of alcohol allows people to act in ways they wouldn’t otherwise act.” “It’s not an excuse,” he said, “but it is an explanation.”

Looking at his record, the steps the offender has taken to address his alcoholism while in custody, and contributions the offender has made to his community highlighted in the PSR, Mahar said that the offence seemed to be out of character. Though drinking too much and getting into trouble did not seem to be out of character. 

Mahar noted that the starting point in cases like these is a three year sentence, which is typically reduced by a third for those who plead guilty at the first opportunity. He adds that it is unfortunate that the victim had to testify in a preliminary inquiry. 

Moore told the court that the offender is still young and “can turn his life around.” He said that the offender is fluent in his language and can live a traditional lifestyle. These are skills that are valuable to be shared throughout the community, especially as many cultural traditions are being lost, Moore said.

“He’s a person of worth in that respect.”

“I just want to say I’m very sorry for what I did wrong,” the offender said. He told the court about a dream he had while incarcerated.

In his dream his father, who has died, told him “don’t drink. If you don’t drink you won’t be in here.”

“I only have my family and I’d like to go back to them,” the offender said. “From now on I’m not going to commit any crimes.”

After his final days in custody the offender will serve one year probation with counselling, and is ordered to abstain from alcohol consumption during that time.  He is prohibited from contact with the victim, unless she wishes to hear an apology, which the offender has said he would like to give if she would allow.