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Eighteen-month jail term sought for ex-gym coach

Former gymnastics coach Ricky Lee Sutherland. NNSL file photo.

A former Yellowknife gymnastics instructor who sent a sexually explicit photo to an underage girl he once coached should receive an 18-month jail sentence for betraying a relationship built on trust, a prosecutor argued earlier this week.

Ricky Lee Sutherland, 50, pleaded guilty in May to one count of luring a child under the age of 18. The offence carries a mandatory minimum sentence of one-year in jail.

Prosecutor Morgan Fane said Monday the one-time coach should receive a higher sentence than the minimum term set by Parliament. He’s calling for a three-year probation period to follow the jail term.

Sutherland’s lawyer, Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass, asked the court not to go above the mandatory minimum sentence.

Sutherland, who began working a city gymnastics club in July 2016, used the popular social media app Snapchat to send several messages to the underage victim between Feb. 11 and Feb. 12, 2017, while he was in Toronto.

Snapchat allows users to send and receive messages and photos that disappear within seconds.

Sutherland’s penis was visible in at least one of the messages.

The gymnastic centre’s board of directors, who had directed Sutherland and all other employees not to befriend gymnastics on social media, confronted the man about the messages when he returned to Yellowknife. He confessed and cooperated with police.

Former gymnastics coach Ricky Lee Sutherland. NNSL file photo.

While there is no evidence to suggest Sutherland groomed his victim, Sutherland took advantage of an existing relationship when he sent the sexually explicit image, said Fane.

The victim, who considered Sutherland a “good friend and a trusted coach,” stated in a victim impact statement the offender “shattered” their relationship, leaving her feeling betrayed.

Fane noted the offence was committed with ease by virtue of the Internet app Sutherland was using.

The ever-evolving tech landscape and the growing ease at which luring offences can be perpetrated is why lawmakers have set a mandatory minimum of one-year in jail, he said.

The ultimate goal, added Fane, is to protect children from online predation.

If Sutherland hadn’t accepted responsibility by pleading guilty, the Crown would have sought a higher sentence in the two-year range, said Fane.

Sutherland’s guilty plea, coupled with his willingness to undergo sex offender treatment, were cited as mitigating factors by Fane.

Sutherland apologized before the court on Monday.

Whitecloud-Brass said her client is genuinely remorseful for his actions, as shown by an apology text he sent the victim in October 2017.

She said Sutherland completed two counselling sessions while out on bail. He revoked his bail last month and has been in custody since.

Sutherland, who faced abuse as a child, is receptive to the idea of receiving behavioural cognitive therapy, said Whitecloud-Brass.

She agreed probation for a period of three years is appropriate.

Earlier this month, Charbonneau threw out a constitutional challenge brought forward by Whitecloud-Brass.

Defence argued that in Sutherland’s case, the mandatory minimum sentence of one-year in jail would amount to cruel and unusual punishment, thus violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — an application that was ultimately dismissed.

Along with a mandatory DNA order, Fane recommended Sutherland register as a sex offender for 20 years after his release.

Charbonneau is expected to hand down a decision on Sept. 24.