Former Saint John councillor and youth ministry leader Donnie Snook has been sentenced to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to 46 sex crimes against children.

Snook, 41, showed no emotion as he faced provincial court Judge Alfred Brien on Thursday.

Some people in the crowded courtroom gasped.

"Wish he had've got more," said Grace Murphy, who used to volunteer at the Chicken Noodle Club, the hot lunch program Snook ran for at-risk children as part of the Saint John Inner City Youth Ministry.

Murphy's daughter "grew up" at the club, where her late mother, who "loved" Snook, also volunteered.

Grace Murphy

Grace Murphy, who volunteered with the hot lunch program Donnie Snook ran for at-risk children, says he should have gotten a longer sentence. (CBC)

"He pulled the wool over this whole community's eyes. And he's done so much damage you know, to the vulnerable children. And there was a lot of them and it's sad. It's sad," she said.

"Another five, 10 [years] would have been even nicer, but 18 years — better than the 10 that I was hearing he may get."

Eighteen years is "one of the longest sentences ever awarded in Canada" for such a case, Crown prosecutor Karen Lee Lamrock told reporters outside the courtroom.

The charges include sexual assault, making child pornography and extortion. They span 12 years and involve 17 male victims, some as young as five years old.

Lamrock had previously asked the court to consider a sentence of 21 years in prison, with no eligibility for parole until Snook served at least half his sentence, or 10 years, whichever was less.

The judge, however, rejected that request. He gave Snook 1½ times credit from the approximately nine months he has already spent in custody, which will knock about 13½ months off of his sentence.

Snook will be eligible for parole after serving less than six years.

"I hope this will begin the healing for the victims," the Crown said, declining further comment.

'Just is what we're looking for'

nb-donnie-snook-newer

Donnie Snook has been in custody since he was arrested at his east-side home in Saint John by members of the RCMP's Internet Child Exploitation unit in January. (CBC)

Defence lawyer Dennis Boyle, who has recommended a 12-year sentence, said he felt it was "a true and good sentence." 

"I think it was appropriate, and accurate and just — and just is what we're looking for," he said.

Snook's reaction was "that it's over now," said Boyle, who spoke briefly with his client following sentencing.

"You know, he’s been waiting and waiting and waiting for this — and he’s looking forward to the treatments that he can have, and those treatments are not only with his pedophilia, but he has received no treatment whatsoever for his own abuse as a child," he said, referring to Snook's allegation that he was abused by a family friend at age 10.

During sentencing, Brien said he hopes Snook will avail himself of "intensive" sex offender treatment for his "mental disorder."

A pre-sentence report indicated the driving factor behind Snook's actions was his deviant sexual interest in boys and that his risk of reoffending falls within the high end of the moderate range.

The judge also ordered him to provide a DNA sample, to be listed on the national sex offender's registry for life, and not to have any contact with his victims during his custodial sentence.

'Groomed' his victims

Brien said the aggravating factors in the case "far exceeded" the mitigating factors, and added deterrence and denunciation must be paramount in sentencing.

Brien said Snook's "grooming" of children in his trust was one of the aggravating factors in the case.

"It is clear that the accused used his personal skills and easy access to vulnerable children to exploit such for his own sexual gratification," the judge said, reading from his 34-page decision.

"He continued to use a very positive public persona to gain and hold the trust of others to allow him to continue his predatory ways almost with impunity," he said.

'He became emboldened in pursuing his desires, reckless and uncaring towards the very children who trusted him to help, not harm, them.'- Judge Alfred Brien

"He became emboldened in pursuing his desires, reckless and uncaring towards the very children who trusted him to help, not harm, them."

The court previously heard how Snook gave his victims alcohol and marijuana at his home, allowed them to watch pornography, and offered them financial "incentives" and other rewards for sexual activity. He also encouraged older children to sexually interact with younger children.

Some suffered single incidents, while others were subjected to years of routine abuse.

The victims expressed feelings of anger, fear, sadness, confusion and embarrassment in their victim impact statements, said Brien. The victims' parents expressed guilt for entrusting their children to Snook, who was elected to city council for a second four-year term in May 2012.

One parent wrote: "I live in daily fear that my oldest son will either end his own life through accident or suicide with the drugs and alcohol he has turned to, to numb the pain of his memories and emotions because of what he has endured."

'Duped' community

The judge also said Snook's "sudden and spectacular fall from grace has had a profound effect" on the entire community he essentially "duped."

"He used personal guile to continue the abuse for so long, and at the same time hold public office and promote children's programs," he said.

Donnie Snook sentencing

Donnie Snook received a police escort as sheriffs deputies transported him to an undisclosed correctional facility. (CBC)

"His conduct, when truly revealed … undermined the efforts of all those who had supported him in his community endeavours. His conduct has fanned the negative sentiments of skepticism and distrust in community leadership and organizations."

Although Snook had previously expressed a sense of relief about being caught, the judge noted he had tried to escape with a laptop full of pornographic images when he was arrested — and showed no signs of trying to stop on his own.

He said Snook realized he was attracted to boys when he was about 19 or 20 and didn't seek any help, or remove himself from the temptation. In fact, he did just the opposite and surrounded himself with vulnerable children, he said.

"He took deliberate and devious ways to avoid detection so that he could not be caught," said Brien. "He abandoned the children, the families and his community. The relief and calm which he now says are present will ring hollow to many in the face of such stark reality."

Mitigating factors considered were that Snook pleaded guilty to the charges, co-operated with police, helping to identify some victims police would otherwise never have known about, and seemed genuinely remorseful in his statement during a sentencing hearing in August.

Help for victims

Donna Snook

Donnie Snook's older sister, Donna Snook, says she hopes her brother's victims get counselling. (CBC)

Snook's older sister Donna said it would be "wonderful" if her brother gets sex offender treatment while in prison.

She also hopes Snook's victims get help, she said.

"I think things need to change … I think people need to start worrying about whether or not these kids that have been victimized are getting counselling. They should all have to have counselling. Some of them are going to be in 10, 15 years, right back here in court and we're going to be doing this all over again."

Snook's sister went on to suggest that if Snook had gotten counselling after he was allegedly abused as a child, he would not have become an abuser.

However, a psychologist, who is an expert in risk assessment and behaviour, previously told the court only three to 12 per cent of abuse victims go on to sexually offend as adults.

4 more outstanding charges in N.L.

Snook is also facing four child exploitation charges in Newfoundland and Labrador.

He is accused of assaulting a boy while he was a pastor with the Salvation Army in Mount Moriah in the mid-1990s.

His defence lawyer said Snook intends to plead guilty to the two counts of sexual assault and two counts of sexual interference.

Boyle has asked for those charges to be transferred to Saint John, but could not speculate how long that might take.

He will request a concurrent sentence on those charges, he said.

Meanwhile, the Crown has requesting a forfeiture hearing, hoping to seize any of Snook's property that was related to the offences, including his Martha Avenue bungalow, his SUV, a trailer and electronic equipment.

A hearing has been set for Nov. 14.

For more details from the sentencing, see CBC's live blog from the courtroom, below: