SALMON ARM - A Salmon Arm pet supply shop owner whose staff are all women pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting an employee more than 30 years his junior.
At the time, in the summer of 2015, the man was 52 and the woman was 20. He can’t be named in order to protect the identity of the woman, but is described in a Jan. 31, 2017 judgement out of Salmon Arm as the owner of a pet supply business with three stores employing 12 people — all of them women.
The man pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault, the details of which include touching the woman on her buttocks and thighs, and kissing her without her consent. While the woman was significantly impacted and for a time felt unable to work, she is now doing well, according to the judgement.
The accused is a British citizen who immigrated to Canada in 1991 and moved to Salmon Arm. Before starting up the pet supply business, he worked at a hotel and a local sports bar. For 25 years, he coached an undisclosed women’s team, made up of members aged 17 to 45. In a written statement, he described himself as follows:
“I am a vegetarian and have been for nearly 15 years. I am avid anti-hunting, anti-racism and pro-LGBT and animal rights. I believe in religious freedom but I myself am agnostic. All my working life has had me working alongside, managing, employing women.”
Provincial Court Judge Dennis Morgan said the information implied the man’s actions towards the complainant are not characteristic of his behaviour or views towards women.
The accused arranged for and attended, at his own expense, the required hours to complete the sex offender treatment program. The doctor who met with him reported he came on time and ready to work, and showed remorse and guilt for his actions. He showed a strong level of commitment to never repeat the mistake and is a low risk to reoffend, the doctor said.
Five positive reference letters were submitted for the accused, including several from female employees who worked with him.
Defence lawyer Glenn Verdurmen said the offence was at the low end of the spectrum and pointed out that a criminal record could lead to the man’s permanent resident status being revoked. Verdurmen asked the judge to consider a conditional discharge, which stays on an offender’s record for only three years.
Crown counsel Monica Fras argued for a two month conditional sentence order, followed by 18 months probation, plus registration in the sexual offender registry for 10 years.
The judge said the offence had a significant negative impact on the woman, and was aggravated by the fact that it occurred in a workplace where there is an imbalance of power between an employer and employee. However, he pointed to evidence of the man’s exemplary character and his self-funded sexual offender counselling, and ruled that a conviction was not necessary.
“I find that it is in the accused’s best interests to receive a discharge given that it will reduce the likelihood of the severe immigration consequences of his actions and will hopefully allow him to remain running his three pet supply stores, and supporting his family,” Morgan said.
He said the sentence would also serve to deter others from committing similar crimes when they consider the impact the charge had on the accused.
“Not only was there the humiliation and embarrassment he created for himself both professionally and personally, including the humbling experience of having to request letters of reference from present employees, and other persons who know him well, but there was, and will remain, the significant stress associated with the uncertainty of the possible severe immigration consequences,” Morgan said.
He ordered a conditional discharge and 18 months probation, the terms of which include 50 hours of community service or a $1,000 donation to the nearest women’s transition house.
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