Sexual Offences (Sentencing)

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General Principles

Youthful and Child Victims

See also: Victims as a Factor in Sentencing

Seriousness of Sexual Offences Against Young Victims

It is suggested that "force is inherent in all sexual assaults on children".[1]

Many courts have expressed society's concern for crimes, including sexual offences, against children.[2]

A predatory sexual offence are those class of sexual offences where the offender uses the imbalance of power between himself and a victim, usually children, to satisfy sexual needs by way of a criminal offence.

Absent exceptional circumstances, denunciation, general and specific deterrence, and the need to separate offenders from society, take precedence over all other objectives of sentencing.[3]

Children are recognized as one of the "most valued and most vulnerable assets." They are generally incapable of defending themselves and so are easily targeted.[4] It is for this reason that courts must focus on protecting children.[5]

Children are vulnerable as they cannot protect themselves.[6]

A child is inherently vulnerable. Accordingly, they can be coerced without threats ever being articulated.[7]

Primary objectives
Section 718.01 directs courts to give primacy to denunciation and deterrence for offences that involve "the abuse of a person under the age of 18 years". [8] Nevertheless, rehabilitative factors must still be considered.[9] This section simply codifies already existing principles.[10]

Denunciation and deterrence have the highest priority in sentencing for offences involving the abuse of children.[11]

The principles of restraint and rehabilitation are still a factor but are secondary for offences involving young victims.[12]

Aggravating Factors
Section 718.2(a)(ii.1) creates an aggravating factor circumstances where there is " evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused a person under the age of eighteen years".[13]

Any offence where children are the target, should be treated as an aggravating factor to sentence. This is especially so where the perpetrator is a family member.[14]

  1. R v CT, 2008 NLTD 112 (CanLII) at para 36
  2. see R v Springer, (1988) 88 N.B.R.(2d) 177 (NBCA)
    R v DC and M.G., 2009 NBCA 59 (CanLII)
  3. R v DD (2002), 163 CCC (3d) 471, 2002 CanLII 44915 (ON CA), at paras 33 to 45 per Moldaver JA
    R v Woodward, 2011 ONCA 610 (CanLII) at paras 75 to 77 per Moldaver JA
  4. DD, supra at para 35
  5. R v Nisbet, 2011 ONCA 26 (CanLII) (Child pornography is "an abhorrent crime that victimizes the most vulnerable members of our society and hence the need for sentences to reflect denunciation and deterrence.")
  6. R v D.V.B., 2010 ONCA 291 (CanLII), (2007), 215 CCC (3d) 505 at para 81 ("Children cannot protect themselves. They are generally vulnerable and helpless. When it comes to their safety, we must be vigilant")
  7. R v Taylor, 1995 CanLII 10546 (NL SCTD), (1995), 134 Nfld. & P.E.I.R. 181 (Nfld. T.D.) at para 8 (" the courts have recognized that in a situation involving an adult, particularly where the adult is in a position of trust, the child is in an inherently vulnerable position and threats do not have to be articulated for the child to feel coercion")
  8. NB: this section came into force by 2005, c. 32, s. 24.
  9. R v Michel, 2005 NWTSC 94 (CanLII) at para 63
    See s. 718.01
  10. R v G.J.O., 2006 NLTD 90 (CanLII), at para 26 ("As to general deterrence, s. 718.01, a recent amendment to the Criminal Code, codifies the existing sentencing law in mandating that in sentencing for offences, such as these, which involved the abuse of persons under 18 years of age, primary consideration is to be given to the objectives of denunciation and deterrence.")
    R v Cazon, 2006 NWTTC 11 (CanLII) at para 26
  11. R v Oliver, 2007 NSCA 15 (CanLII), (2007), 250 N.S.R. (2d) 296 (C.A.), at para 20 (“highest ranking among all of the principles of sentencing in cases involving the abuse of children. Parliament's intention is clearly stated.”)
    R v Michel, 2005 NWTSC 94 (CanLII), [2005] N.W.T.J. No. 105 at para 62 ("The priority objectives of a sentence in the case of the sexual violation of a young person must always be denunciation and deterrence. The sentence must be sufficient punishment so as to reflect society's abhorrence of such conduct so as to discourage others who might engage in similar conduct. Courts have long said that those are the important objectives.")
  12. R v BCM, 2008 BCCA 365 (CanLII), (2008), 238 CCC (3d) 174 (BCCA), at para 35 per Neilson JA (“the principles of restraint and rehabilitation, while still operative, are given secondary status in offences involving young victims.”)
  13. NB: this section came into force by 2005, c. 32. But it can be considered codification of common law.
  14. R v TLB, 2007 ABCA 61 (CanLII) at para 20

Grooming

Evidence of "grooming" a youthful victim is an aggravating factor in sexual offences involving children. [1]Grooming can take the form of cultivating a relationship of trust or undertaking a process of relinquishing inhibitions all with a view to advancing a plan to sexually exploit a young person. [2]

  1. R v G.C.F., 2004 CanLII 4771 (ON CA) at para 21
    R v R.J.H., 2012 NLCA 52 (CanLII)
  2. Legare, 2009 SCC 56 (CanLII), [2009] 3 SCR 551 at 28, 30

Psychology of Child Sexual Offences

Experts in topics such as pedophelia have given evidence claiming some of the following:

  • pedophilia is a life-long condition. A pedophile is always at risk of re-offence[1]
  1. R v Stuckless, 1998 CanLII 7143 (ON CA) at para 17

Ranges

In Ontario, a person in a position of trust who abuses children over a longer period of time will normally receive a sentence in the upper single digits or more.[1]

In Alberta, the "starting point" for "a single serious sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust is 4 years".[2]

In Manitoba, "major sexual assaults [against] a young person within a trust relationship by means of violence, threats of violence or by means of grooming" have starting range of 4 to 5 years.[3]

It has been suggested that sexual abuse of a child, particularly sexual intercourse, by a person in authority is in a range of 3 to 5 years.[4]

Any sort of series of sexual offences against young persons by adults in positions of trust over a long duration should attract sentences in the "high" range single-digit of years.[5]

  1. R v M.D., 2012 ONCA 520 (CanLII)
  2. R v S.(W.B.) (1992), 1992 CanLII 2761 (AB CA), 127 A.R. 65 (Alta. C.A.)
    R v AGA, 1010 ABCA 61 (CanLII) at para 9
  3. R v Sidwell, 2015 MBCA 56 (CanLII) at para 38
  4. see for example R v W.W.M. [2006] OJ No. 440, 2006 CanLII 3262 (ONCA) at para 14
  5. R v Stuckless, 1998 CanLII 7143 (ON CA)

Psychological Harm

It has been recognized by courts that child victims of sexual offences suffer from long lasting damage.[1] They suffer from emotional trauma that is often permanent. As adults they "may become incapable of forming loving relationship, always fearful of re-victimization by sexual partners. Further, the matured victim may become a sexual predator himself. It is often that an offender will report being victimized by other sexual predators as a child."[2]

The judge should consider the "likelihood of psychological harm to the victim".[3] But the judge does not need to take judicial notice of the psychological harm caused by a sexual offence.[4]

  1. R v DD, (2002), 163 CCC (3d) 471, 2002 CanLII 44915 (ON CA) at para 36
  2. R v DD, supra para 37-38
  3. R v Rosenthal, 2015 YKCA 1 (CanLII) at para 6 - the "likelihood is a reason that the principle of general deterrence is significant in sentencing for sexual assault"
    R v McDonnell, 1997 CanLII 389 (SCC), [1997] 1 SCR 948
  4. Rosenthal at para 6

Position of Trust

Position of Trust as a Factor in Sentencing

Historical Sex Offences

Historical Sexual Offences should not have their penalties reduced simply because of the time that has passed between the offence and sentence. The magnitude and culpability remain the same. [1] The importance of denunciation and deterrence as primary sentencing objectives are not diminished.[2]

However, the passage of time can show that the offender is a low risk to re-offend and that the offence is not in the character of the offender.

  1. See Delay as a Factor in Sentencing
  2. R v Spence, 1992 ABCA 352 (CanLII) at para 9 to 14