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Former B.C. cab driver accused of indecent act gets one year of probation, avoids criminal record

Gagandeep Singh Sidhu was arrested in May 2019 and charged with sexual assault, but plead guilty to the lesser charge of committing an indecent act in a public place
Gagandeep Sidhu is pictured leaving the Kelowna courthouse Friday. Photo: Nicholas Johansen

A former Kelowna taxi driver who appeared to masturbate while touching an intoxicated female passenger will serve just 20 hours of community service for his crime, over a single year of probation.

Gagandeep Singh Sidhu was arrested in May 2019 and charged with sexual assault, after a disturbing incident with a young woman he had driven home from a Kelowna bar. But on Friday, the Crown dropped the sexual assault charge, and allowed Sidhu to instead plead guilty to the lesser charge of committing an indecent act in a public place. The Crown and defence then entered a joint sentencing submission, asking for a conditional discharge, which means Sidhu will have no criminal record if he successfully completes a year of probation.

Just after midnight on the Saturday evening, Sidhu picked up the intoxicated woman from a bar in his cab and drove her home. When she arrived home, she became sick, and vomited into a garbage can outside her house.

“Once he gets to [the victim], he puts one hand on her back and asks if she's OK,” Crown prosecutor Jason Hatherly said during sentencing submissions. “While he does so, he positions himself behind [the victim] and it appears he's using his right hand to masturbate.

“It appears the accused's hand was on the victim's back for about seven seconds, while he made the motion with his hand.”

Sidhu’s actions went unnoticed until the next morning, when the woman’s father checked his security cameras and saw the disturbing events take place.

In a victim impact statement, the young woman said she still feels extremely violated, ashamed, embarrassed and hurt, and can no longer take a taxi. She no longer feels safe in certain environments and she now suffers from anxiety.

While Crown prosecutor Hatherly told Judge Cathaline Heinrichs that the surveillance footage, which was never shown in open court, appeared to show Sidhu masturbating, the Crown accepted his guilty plea for “willfully simulating a sex act.”

The case was set to go to trial in May, but the trial was postponed due to COVID-19. Since the pandemic, the chief judge of the Provincial Court of BC has encouraged Crown prosecutors to be “reasonable and realistic in their sentencing positions," while encouraging judges to “proactively canvass resolution in order to avoid setting trial dates," during off-the-record pre-trial hearings. This “resolution” typically comes in the form of a plea deal, to avoid using court time that's now in short supply.

Sidhu immigrated to Canada from India in 2009 and became a permanent resident in 2013. His defence counsel, Bryan Fitzpatrick, said a conviction of sexual assault would have led to the immediate deportation of Sidhu, while a conditional discharge will not.

Sidhu became a father in June, just seven days after the incident, and in a letter, his spouse asked the judge to consider the impacts Sidhu's sentence would have on their family.

Following the laying of charges, Sidhu lost his taxi licence and was fired from his job at Kelowna Cabs. He has been unable to find employment for more than a year.

When asked by Judge Cathaline Heinrichs if he had anything to say to the court, Sidhu said: “No, nothing to add.”

Sidhu’s single year of probation includes 20 hours of community service and taking sexual offence counselling if ordered by his probation officer.

In comparison, an unrelated sentencing hearing immediately prior to Sidhu's resulted in a conditional discharge, with five months of probation, for a woman who breached a court order, simply by being within 100 metres of her son.

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