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Former B.C. pastor gets house arrest for sexual assault

Jason Zerbin.
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A former B.C. church pastor has been given three months of house arrest for sexually assaulting an 18-year-old year woman he and his family knew for years through the church.

Former Victoria-based God’s Garden Church pastor Jason Jonathan Eric Zerbin had asked for a conditional discharge, meaning he would not have a criminal record.

Zerbin had argued in court that having a criminal record would prevent him from travelling internationally which he needed to do for work.

However, B.C. Provincial Court Judge Ted Gouge didn't buy it.

According to a March 24 B.C. Provincial Court decision, Zerbin sexually assaulted an 18-year-old woman in 2015 when he was 28 years old.

The decision says Zerbin had been a salaried pastor at God’s Garden Church shortly before the sexual assault took place and he had met the victim through the church.

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Zerbin and a group of other church members had gone for a picnic at a beach in Sooke.

During the evening he laid down under a blanket with the 18-year-old and put his hand on her hip. He then put his hand down the front of her pants and rubbed her genitals through her underwear. She rolled away from him and he stopped touching her.

A few months later he emailed the victim and her parents and said he had "shame and remorse" and "felt a depth of embarrassment."

The decision says the victim grew up in a Christian household in northern B.C. and at 16 years old had left her parents and moved to Victoria to live with her sister so she could attend high school. In Grade 12 she joined the church where Zerbin was a pastor.

The two bonded over music as Zerbin owns a music recording business and the victim became close to him and his wife. They joked that she was their adopted child.

"They were like my Victoria parents. I would eat at their house all the time, I would watch TV there, I would do homework there. I spent a lot of time there... kind of was like my home away from home," the victim said in the court documents.

After the sexual assault, the victim left the church and lost her faith.

"(I) lost my entire community and friend group in a day, which was very destabilizing," the victim impact statement reads. "In the years following, the impact it had on my life was much bigger than I was aware of at the time. I started dealing with anxiety and depression."

The victim said she'd dealt with suicidal ideation since being sexually assaulted by Zerbin.

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The judge commented that the victim's impact statement "immediately struck" him as similar to another case he'd ruled on recently.

In the case, a 25-year-old woman had had consensual sex with a 15-year-old boy on two occasions. The woman received a significantly harsher sentence and got five and a half years of jail time.

Crown prosecutors in the Zerbin case only asked for three months house arrest.

The decision says Zerbin grew up in a fundamentalist Christian family and was physically disciplined as a child.

He's now 35 years old and in an open marriage. He lives part-time with his wife and part-time with another person and describes himself as bisexual.

A psychiatric report said he was at relatively low risk to re-offend.

Zerbin argued he'd been drinking at the time of the sexual assault and that should be seen as a mitigating factor.

The judge dismissed the argument.

"Mr. Zerbin went to a drinking party with an 18-year-old girl and shared alcohol with her. He knew the girl well. She had often been a guest in his home. He knew that she looked up to him as a guiding figure in her young life. He created the situation in which this offence was committed," the judge ruled.

The judge pointed out that his relationship with the victim placed him in a position of trust.

Zerbin also argued a criminal record would impede international travel which he needed to do for his music production company.

Again, the judge dismissed the argument and sentenced him to three months under a 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew, followed by 18 months of probation.

READ MORE: Okanagan senior who raped 6-year-old niece jailed

He also appealed against being put on the sex offenders registry but was unsuccessful and put on the register for 10 years.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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