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West Van senior jailed for sexual assault of minors, years after charges declined by Crown

The senior reoffended nearly 20 years after he was first reported to police but not charged
The accused was sentenced in North Vancouver Provincial Court on Friday, Jan. 5. | North Shore News files

Warning: This story contains graphic content about sexual assault that may be distressing to some readers.

A West Vancouver man has been sentenced to 6.5 years in prison for sexually assaulting four young girls, two of whom were his own granddaughters. Crimes against two of the girls were committed decades after the first allegations were reported to police, which involved an initial investigation that led to no charges being laid by the Crown.

The 81-year-old man was sentenced in North Vancouver Provincial Court on Friday, Jan. 5 after pleading guilty to four counts of sexual assault and four counts of sexual interference with a minor. A court-ordered publication ban covers any details that could identify the victims, including the name of the accused.

In 1995, the man moved into a basement suite of a mutual friend, following an “unwanted” divorce with his former wife and becoming estranged from his own children, the court heard. At the time, there were two sisters living in the home, age four and six.

Asked to babysit on multiple occasions, he became close with the girls, describing them as “like daughters,” said Crown counsel Michaela Donnelly. After finding employment and moving into his own home, the accused – then in his 50s – continued to babysit them over the next several years.

During that time, when the girls were between six and 12 years old, the accused touched the older sister multiple times on her genitals and the other girl on one occasion, according to an agreed statements of facts. The incidents lasted around five minutes each. He told the girls not to tell anyone, or he would get in trouble, Crown counsel added.

In February 2002, the younger sister disclosed that she had been sexually touched by the man. When the other girl heard this, she was shocked, and revealed that she also had been touched, Donnelly said.

“This was the first time that each [sister] learned what [the accused] had done to the other,” Donnelly explained. Soon after the girls came forward, their parents brought the allegations to the West Vancouver Police Department.

Crown laid no charges after 2002 investigation by West Vancouver police

An investigation by the West Vancouver Police Department at that time included interviews with the sisters, their parents and the accused, who vehemently denied all claims of wrongdoing, the court heard. Police submitted a report to the Crown, but no charges were laid. The family returned to WVPD in 2009 and 2011, asking for the investigation to be reopened. It was not reopened, however, Donnelly said.

Two decades would pass before charges were laid for the sexual assaults on these sisters – now in their 30s – after a second investigation in 2021 found the man had reoffended against another pair of young girls.

Outside the court, West Vancouver police issued a statement to the North Shore News, saying the initial case was never fully closed, as unresolved investigations remain available to be re-evaluated “as appropriate.” WVPD said it was “pleased” to see the man convicted and sent to prison.

“Investigating these types of offences and collaborating with our partners to bring perpetrators to justice is some of the most important work we do. We are very pleased that our investigators’ tenacity and the courage of the survivors ultimately resulted in some accountability for the accused,” WVPD spokesperson Chris Bigland said in a written statement.

“We take all allegations of sexual abuse very seriously, and we encourage anyone who has been the victim of a crime to come forward,” he said.

As to why the investigation wasn’t reopened earlier, WVPD declined to comment further.

The BC Prosecution Service confirmed that it received a report from police in 2002.

“After conducting a thorough review of the evidence submitted by the investigators at that time, the assessing Crown counsel applied the charge assessment standard set out in BCPS policy and concluded that the charge assessment standard was not met,” said BCPS spokesperson Dan McLaughlin. “Accordingly, no charges were approved.”

In order to approve charges, Crown counsel measures evidence against a two-part test, which determines whether there is substantial likelihood of a conviction and if the public interest requires prosecution, McLaughlin explained.

When asked if the 2002 charge assessment had been reviewed, the prosecution service did not provide further information.

In her victim impact statement, read in court by Donnelly, the older sister cited her deep dissatisfaction with the Canadian criminal justice system as being a reason for moving to a country in a different part of the globe. She also reported ongoing trust issues with men, physical pain resulting from the emotional trauma and the economic impacts from ongoing counselling throughout her life.

Their mother expressed “rage” at the judicial system, Donnelly said, adding that friends and the community questioned their family, doubting that the allegations were true.

When no charges were laid, the girls’ father said the accused man wasn’t threatened but was “emboldened,” Donnelly added.

'I offer no excuses for what I did'

In October 2021, another two young sisters – both grandchildren of the accused – told their parents that he had touched their genitals. The older sister said he had done it “a lot,” Donnelly said. The girls were eight and five years old. After those incidents were reported, West Vancouver police opened another investigation, which led to the accused’s arrest and charges being laid related to all four complainants.

Following the charges, the man pleaded guilty to all counts. In the North Vancouver courtroom, he apologized to the victims, often breaking into tears.

“I cannot express how devastated I am – the harm that I’ve caused each of you,” he said.

“I had no idea at the time that what I did was so upsetting for you or would cause such significant and long-lasting harm. I feel like a fool for not realizing that,” he said. “I offer no excuses for what I did.”

Seeking an eight-year prison term, Crown counsel argued that the accused’s abuse of trust was a significant factor in the moral wrongfulness of his actions. Parents of the now-adult girls viewed him as a trusted caregiver that they took into their home, Donnelly said.

“Both the parents, but particularly the mother, entrusted [the accused] with her very young and vulnerable children,” she said. “He repeatedly violated that trust in a profound and irreversible way.”

Pushing for a five-year sentence, defence lawyer William Smart said that his client poses a low-risk to reoffend, and that counselling has given him more insight into the wrongfulness of his actions. The man also pleaded guilty before the matter went to trial, and he showed genuine remorse, the defence said.

In his judgment, Judge Joseph Galati said there was no doubt that the offences are very serious, and that the accused's moral blameworthiness is high.

“[The accused] knew what he was doing was wrong, as exemplified by him telling [a victim] not to tell, or he would get in trouble,” Galati said. “Nevertheless, even after having been investigated by the police many years earlier, [he] continued to offend against his granddaughters.”

The judge agreed that the accused has a low risk to reoffend, particularly following his experiences in the criminal justice system. Serving his time in a federal penitentiary would be more difficult for the accused than a younger offender, Galati acknowledged.

The judge sentenced the man to an 8.5-year prison sentence, reduced to 6.5 years so as not to be “crushing.” Galati wished the accused luck, as he was handcuffed and walked out of the courtroom.

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