Jail violates blind sex offender's rights, judge rules

A blind, former paralympian convicted of sexually assaulting a woman will not spend any time in jail after a Calgary judge decided Alberta's correctional institutions cannot accommodate his disability.

Quality of life behind bars weighed heavily in judge's decision

A blind, former paralympian convicted of sexually assaulting a woman won't spend any time in jail. 1:37

A blind, former paralympian convicted of sexually assaulting a woman won't spend any time in jail.

The reason for Judge Heather Lamoureux's decision in a Calgary courtroom Tuesday was largely based on the grounds that Alberta's correctional institutions cannot accommodate Keith Myette's disability.

Instead, Myette — who requires 24-hour assistance from his guide dog — will serve his 18-month sentence under house arrest.

The Crown had been asking for 18 months to two years behind bars.

Defence lawyer Brendan Miller says putting a blind criminal in jail would be a human rights issue.

"To throw him in jail would be a definite breach of any kind of domestic or international human rights," said Miller. 

"This gentleman needs people to help him out — including his seeing eye dog [and] some other social workers and caregivers in the community — and to simply lock up a fellow who is 100 per cent blind and throw away the key just wouldn't accord with any kind of human rights standard that we have in Canada or internationally."

Steven Sehaal, the deputy director for Calgary Correctional Centre, testified Myette is the second case of a blind person facing time behind bars in his 27-year career.

International law taken into consideration

He said there is also no provincial policy in place that deals with blind offenders.

Sehaal said Myette would have been placed in 24-hour protective custody, and he would not be permitted to have his guide dog.

Protective custody limits inmates to a half hour of fresh air and one hour at the gym on alternating days.

He said nothing in the prison is written in Braille, and correctional officers have no training to deal with blind offenders.

"To put my client in incarceration would amount to a breach of our international treaty obligations for protecting people with disabilities," he said.

"It is the first time in Canadian criminal law that international law was taken into consideration in a sentencing, and I think that Judge Lamoureux came to the right decision."

Myette, who represented Canada in track and field at the Paralympic Games in 1984 and 1992, was previously employed with the City of Calgary to conduct public speaking appearances on the issue of blindness and disability.

The sex offender will now be confined to his home 24 hours a day but be able to leave under certain conditions, such as work, walking his guide dog, up to one hour of shopping for the necessities of life, and counselling.