An 84-year-old Nova Scotia man is heading to prison for sexually assaulting four of his foster children over several decades.

John Archibald Connolly was sentenced to three years on June 27 in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

The court heard that Connolly and his wife, Bessie Connolly, took in many foster children over the years. Four of them said they were molested.

The first victim testified that she was abused as a child from 1956 to 1965. Two victims lived in the home from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. The last girl joined the home as a toddler and lived there until 1980.

The first victim was routinely raped, while three others endured years of what the judge termed "degrading sexual assaults."

Prosecution and defence were far apart on their sentencing recommendations.

The defence proposed 18 months of house arrest, and the Crown asked for a penitentiary sentence of four to six years.

Justice Gerald Moir said he considered Connolly’s advanced age when sentencing the man.

Connolly suffers from a variety of illnesses, according to court documents, including having undergone open heart surgery, and a colostomy for bowel cancer. He also has a pacemaker and suffers from small strokes.

"At 84, Mr. Connolly sets a record in the case law to which I have been referred," he said.

Moir also had to consider the terrible impact on Connolly’s victims, and what he called the "context of the general society."

"Foster children have much to overcome, without being molested. To deliberately harm a foster child violates the trust obligation a foster parent owes to the child and to society, who places these children in the foster parent's control," said Moir.

"I have no choice but to keep in mind the next foster parent who is tempted to abuse their foster child. Such a foster parent has to know that, sooner or later, they will be called to account."

Connolly will be registered as a sex offender and must provide a DNA sample to the national registry.