Editor’s note – The Courier continues to abide by a court ordered publication ban of any information that might identify the victims, including the name of the defendant, or the name of the nursing home.
Saint John – A long time volunteer at a Charlotte County nursing home has been sentenced to 15 months in jail followed by two years’ probation for sexually assaulting three female residents.
The 81-year-old had pled not guilty to four charges of sexual assault and opted for trial by judge alone. In February Judge Henrik Tonning convicted the defendant on three of the charges and sentencing was adjourned.
The three victims of the assaults, which took place between 2013 and 2016, have since passed away, and Tonning repeated the publication ban on anything which would disclose or tend to disclose their identity.
Tonning said people have to understand if they engage in these types of conduct, significant penalties will follow and reparation has to be provided to the victims and the community.
“In terms of providing reparation for the families of the victims that are here today, there is little I can do. Hopefully, this provides some closure but obviously the turmoil and upset they’ve experienced is not something that can be remedied by any sentence I impose.”
While he wished he could do more, Tonning said all he could do was pass sentence on the accused and hope that time will heal. When dealing with sexual assaults he said sentences are generally based on the nature of the activity that took place.
“I am not, for one minute, suggesting this isn’t despicable, heinous, and brutal, but the simple reality here is we’re dealing with a situation of fondling over the clothing of the complainants.
“I have to look at that in terms as opposed to a situation where there was far more intrusive sexual activity…. I’m not saying it wasn’t demeaning…. This is on the lower end of what is a rather despicable scale.”
Tonning said he also had to consider the age of the defendant who was of advanced age but has no infirmities. Another issue, he said, was that the defendant had led an otherwise blameless life and was referred to as a person of good character.
However, Tonning said there are two sides to this coin because often it is the person’s good character that allows them into positions to commit these kinds of crimes.
He said the defendant’s good character played a part in the ability to commit these crimes and, was not of good character, or would not have been roaming around in this nursing home.
Tonning said he also had to look at the victim impact statements from the family members who were basically, in sync, with the horror they felt over what their loved ones were subjected to.
The effect it had on them, he said, was horrendous for several reasons. The families had made the decision to place their loved ones in this home and, when this type of incident occurs, it makes it all worse because they feel they have let their parents down.
While this is not true, Tonning said it is understandable how the families’ feel. He said this has taken a long time to resolve and they have had to live with it for a long period of time with numerous trips to court.
Tonning also spoke of the effect of the crime on the community itself, and on the nursing home in question.
“The people that work in these nursing homes are entitled to be looked upon with respect and, when this type of thing happens, it reflects poorly on the institution itself… It affects everybody that is there… I have no doubt that many people may feel they may be to blame.”
With an aging population, Tonning said more and more people are finding themselves in a situation like the complainants.
“These people deserve care and protection and are basically sitting ducks for this type of activity which is why deterrents are fundamental.”
Sentences in cases cited by both the Crown and the defendant, said Tonning, for similar offences range from a number of years to 90 days. He said the sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offences.
In this case, he said there was no question a period of incarceration was required but the mitigating factors had to be considered such as the age of the accused, lack of previous record, reasonable involvement with the church, and the chance of reoffending.
“There can be no question of the embarrassment (the defendant) feels on being convicted. (The defendant) is the one who committed these offences and is the one who must pay the price.”
Tonning sentenced the defendant to five months consecutive on each of the three offences for a total of 15 months, followed by two years’ probation with a number of conditions including counselling and, most importantly, have no contact, directly or indirectly, with any of the victims’ families, and is not to accept employment or volunteer at any facility where there are people with physical disabilities.
The defendant will also be placed on the registered sexual offender registry for life.