Kelowna man who had sex with underage employee sentenced to 16 months behind bars | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna man who had sex with underage employee sentenced to 16 months behind bars

December 10, 2019 - 8:00 AM

The manager of a Kelowna business who in 2018 entered a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old employee has been sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Brett Cossentine pleaded guilty to one count of touching a person under the age of 16 years for a sexual purpose and failing to comply with a condition of an undertaking by communicating in March. His sentence, which came down Oct. 18, was released online Dec. 9.

In the decision, Justice Gary Weatherill wrote that over a three-and-a-half-month period between Feb.13, 2018 and May 29, 2018, Cossentine, then 27, engaged in a sexual relationship with with the girl, whose identity is protected under a publication ban.

Initially, Weatherill said, Cossentine thought the girl was 18 years old, but soon after their first sexual encounter, he found out that she was only 15.

“Nevertheless and despite this knowledge, their sexual encounters continued at a rate of about three times per week, a significant number of which were at the (business),” Weatherill wrote.

On May 29, 2018, another staff member called the RCMP to inform them of the relationship and Cossentine turned himself in to the RCMP the following day.

He was released on a promise to appear and an undertaking to a police officer that contained a condition that he "undertake to abstain from communicating directly or indirectly” with the girl.

“In violation of that condition, on June 10, 2018, he contacted (the girl) by Instagram asking how she was doing, expressing concerns that criminal charges against him would negatively impact his life, telling (her) he was suicidal, saying that if she was completely honest in court it would be really bad for him, asking her to deny their relationship, and inquiring if she was going to press charges against him,” wrote Weatherill.

Crown argued that Cossentine, in committing the sexual offence, abused his position of authority in relation to the girl.

Highlighting the power imbalance, Crown counsel had argued Cossentine's duties included interviewing and hiring all staff, managing payroll and day-to-day operations of the business.

"He had direct supervisor/manager responsibility over (the girl) and had access to her personal information, control over her schedule, and access to private areas of the (business)" reads the decision.

He also was tasked with training (the girl) and was always in a position of authority over her.

Crown also submitted a victim impact statement that indicated the girl was traumatized by the encounter.

Weatherill said that "at first blush" the victim impact statement was a stark contrast to the initial statement she gave to police May 31, 2018.

At that time she professed her love for Cossentine and noted that they "clicked right away." She said there was never any pressure put on her to do anything or that Cossentine expected anything and that the fact that he was her manager had nothing to do with their relationship.

"She went on to state that she really loved him, that she had no regrets, and that had the charges not been laid, they would have a stronger relationship and still be together," Weatherill wrote.

She then told police that she did not want Cossentine charged, but that her mother did and that losing his job was punishment enough.

Weatherill said he accepted the girl had not processed the enormity of what had occurred when she made her initial statement and accepted her later victim impact statement as genuine.

He also listed a series of other factors, like Cossentine's decision to not use contraceptives, to keep nude photos of the girl and the knowledge of their age difference as aggravating factors for sentencing.

Cossentine, who has no previous criminal record, is in the low to moderate range of engaging in similar crimes, according to a psychological assessment.

He suffers from an adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood and presents as a low to moderate risk of suicide or self-harm.

"Cossentine has expressed remorse and has accepted responsibility for his actions throughout," wrote Weatherill. "In a heartfelt statement to the court following submissions, he apologized for what he had done and stated with sincerity that it would not happen again."

Working in his favour was community and family support as well as the fact that he entered a guilty plea early in the process.

"In so concluding, I wish to emphasize that when trial judges are sentencing adult sexual predators who have exploited innocent children, the focus of the sentencing hearing should be on the harm caused to the child by the offender’s conduct and the life-altering consequences that can and often do flow from it," Weatherill wrote. "While the effects of a conviction on the offender and the offender’s prospects for rehabilitation will always warrant consideration, the objectives of denunciation, deterrence and the need to separate sexual predators from society for society’s well-being and the well-being of our children must take precedence."

Weatherill told Cossentine the fact that she was a willing participant does not lessen his moral culpability.

"Rightly or wrongly, Parliament has drawn the line at age 16. Before that age, a person cannot consent," he said. "The fact that there was ostensible consent is irrelevant. Sex between a person under 18 and a person in a position of trust, authority or in a relationship of dependency or exploitation is criminal."

The Crown suggested that the appropriate sentence is 32 months' imprisonment for the sexual interference conviction and four months for breach of undertaking to be served consecutively, amounting to a total of 36 months' incarceration.

Defence said the sentencing range of 12 to 36 months was appropriate.

Weatherill decided on 16 months for the sexual touching and four months for the  breach-of-undertaking offence. The sentences will be served concurrently.

Cossentine will be on probation for a period of two years and cannot contact the girl. He will also have to submit DNA to the national DNA bank.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 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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