An advocacy group for victims of crime expressed concern on Tuesday after a Quebec man was granted parole in a sexual assault case, in part because the judge believed a conviction could harm the career of the man.
Marie-Christine Villeneuve of the Crime Victims Assistance Centers says she fears the light sentence could discourage victims and make them reluctant to report sexual assaults.
“If you are a victim seeing this kind of decision, you may be more afraid to turn to the legal process, to file a complaint, and perhaps you are afraid of really obtaining justice at the end of this process. “, she said. in an interview.
The decision, she said, appears to go against the current trend, “which is more focused on the concern of the victim at the heart of the judicial process”.
In the June ruling, a Court of Quebec judge in Trois-Rivières, Que., chose to grant Simon Houle probation and parole, in part because a conviction would make it difficult for Houle to travel to as an engineer. Houle pleaded guilty last year to sexual assault and voyeurism after assaulting an acquaintance in 2019 and taking photos of her private body parts while she slept. He was 27 at the time.
The victim “was woken by the light of a camera” to find Houle assaulting her with her fingers after falling asleep at a friend’s house after a night out drinking at a bar with a group of friends. Her shirt had been lifted and her bra unfastened, according to the court’s decision.
The woman “freaked out” and went into the kitchen, where the accused followed her and carried her back to bed. A search of his phone would later reveal that he had taken nine photos.
Judge Matthieu Poliquin found that the victim suffered significant harm as a result of the attack, including anger, shame, fear of seeing the accused and consequences for his school, work and life. personal. She was also in a vulnerable condition due to drinking and sleeping, according to the ruling.
However, the judge noted that the assault happened “on the whole quickly”, adding that Houle took therapy seriously and sincerely regretted his actions.
“A sentence other than a discharge would have a significant impact on his career as an engineer,” the judge wrote. “This job requires traveling around the world,” he added, while acknowledging that Houle had not yet been forced to travel by his employer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Houle admitted during therapy to assaulting another person in 2015. The judge described the admission as concerning, but said it also showed a “desire for transparency.” No charges have been filed following the 2015 incident.
Houle was also convicted of impaired driving in 2014, but had never been convicted of a violent crime.
Poliquin said Houle was at low risk of reoffending and had been successfully rehabilitated. “It is in the general interest that the accused, a good for society, can continue his professional career,” wrote the judge.
Parole may be granted in cases where a person pleads guilty but is not sentenced as long as they meet certain conditions. Houle was given three years of probation and must pay $6,000 to a victims’ support group.
If he meets the conditions, he will avoid a permanent criminal record.
The Quebec Crown prosecutors’ office said it would seek to appeal the judge’s sentencing decision in the coming weeks.
Houle’s sentencing, first reported by Radio-Canada, sparked an avalanche of online comments denouncing the decision.
Villeneuve said while the verdict may be disappointing to some, it’s important to remember that this is just one decision and that the justice system is just one path to healing for victims. .
Although courts do not traditionally invite victims of sexual assault, attempts are underway to restore trust through the establishment of specialized sexual assault courts, she said. Villeneuve added that his organization is there to support victims, whether they choose to file a formal complaint or not.
By Morgan Lowrie