UBC Okanagan student pleads guilty to filming woman in washroom after RCMP allegedly hesitate to pursue charge
Victim claims case nearly didn't make it to prosecution after officer expressed concern for suspect's future
WARNING: This story contains descriptions of voyeurism that might be upsetting to some readers.
A student at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan (UBCO) campus has admitted he filmed a fellow student in a campus bathroom, pleading guilty to a criminal charge the victim believes might not have been laid because of the RCMP's initial response to the case.
Sari Siyam, 22, pleaded guilty to one count of voyeurism in B.C. Supreme Court in Kelowna, B.C., on Friday. He sat in the gallery as his lawyers spoke and read aloud an apology letter addressed to the victim.
"I am sincerely sorry," said Siyam, a fourth-year engineering student at UBCO. "I can only imagine the unnecessary fear and anxiety I put you through ... I am ready to accept my consequence and take full responsibility for my actions."
CBC News first reported on the case last year, detailing the victim's experience with the RCMP. Her real name is protected by a publication ban but CBC has used the pseudonym Taylor.
Taylor caught Siyam filming her in the gender-neutral washroom in the Commons building on March 10, 2020. She saw the camera on a white iPhone pointed up at her from under the stall divider and confronted him.
She said she told RCMP she "absolutely" wanted to move ahead with charges and that the responding RCMP officer — Const. Ryan Routley — was initially supportive.
But later, she said, Routley started talking about the suspect's background and how a criminal conviction might negatively affect his life.
"He was sort of implying he's been brought up the right way, mentioned that he had a girlfriend, that he was an engineering student with a co-op .... He kept sort of reiterating he will never get a job [if he's charged]," Taylor said during an interview with CBC.
Confused, she said, she agreed to stop pursuing the case.
The voyeurism charge to which Siyam pleaded guilty Friday was only approved after a second RCMP officer took over the case. It also came two weeks after CBC published its article.
At the time, RCMP said it could not comment on Routley's conduct as the case was before the courts. On Tuesday, when asked again in wake of the guilty plea, a spokesperson said the force will still "not be commenting on internal matters related to this incident."
"I can tell you that the Kelowna RCMP continues to re-evaluate the ongoing quality of investigations through quality assurance. Proper training has been provided to police officers and we are also ensuring better supervision on more complex investigations, normally handled by front-line investigators with oversight by our Sex Crimes Unit," the email read.
'5 or 6' other students filmed in bathroom
In an agreed statement of facts presented to the court Friday, Siyam admitted to filming Taylor. He'd pointed his iPhone under the divider between his stall and hers and watched the video from his Apple Watch.
In a subsequent interview, court heard, he told police he'd filmed another "five or six" students the same way as they used the bathroom the previous day.
Those students still don't know they were filmed.
Taylor claimed Routley knew about the "five or six" others, but did not tell her when they were discussing charges.
Judge hands down conditional discharge
Siyam said he did not save the videos, didn't upload them anywhere and did not use them for a sexual purpose. His lawyer, Michael Oykhman, said he was struggling with his mental health at the time of the offence.
Siyam was sentenced Friday to a conditional discharge with 12 months' probation. If he follows the terms of his sentence, which include an order to obtain counselling and send an apology letter to Taylor, he will not have a criminal record.
Oykhman said Siyam has been banned from UBCO's campus but still takes classes remotely. A spokesperson for the university on Monday said the school could not comment, citing privacy.
Taylor has since graduated from the university.
CBC News corroborated her recollection by examining emails, notes and text messages, as well as through interviews with friends, family and confidential sources with direct knowledge of the events.
If you are the victim of sexual violence, please reach out for help to HealthLinkBC by calling 811, or through the Crime Victim Assistance Program at 1-866-660-3888 or VictimLink BC at 1-800-563-0808 or text 604-836-6381.
Those seeking support from the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office at UBC Okanagan can call 250-807-9640.