Manitoba

Winnipeg man, 46, gets 5-year sentence for sexually exploiting teens

A Winnipeg man convicted of sexually exploiting two teenage girls in 2016 has been sentenced to five years in prison.

Lawyer for Jonathan Pearce said he has sex addiction, didn't intentionally seek minors

Because he was convicted of multiple offences with different victims, Jonathan Pearce must register with the Sex Offender Information Registration Act for life, in addition to his five-year prison sentence. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

A Winnipeg man convicted of sexually exploiting two teenage girls in 2016 has been sentenced to five years in prison.

Jonathan Pearce, 46, admitted to buying sex from them, but said he thought the two girls — who were 14 and 15 at the time, and cannot be named — were adult sex-trade workers.

Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Kenneth Champagne said in his decision May 1 Pearce did not take all the reasonable steps to verify the girls were at least 18.

Crown prosecutor Kyle Parker recommended a sentence of six years, while Pearce's defence lawyer, Katherine Bueti, asked for a 4½-year sentence.

Champagne said the sentence's primary objective needed to be deterring and denouncing exploitation — particularly because sex crimes are disproportionately committed against vulnerable populations, including youth and Indigenous people.

Both survivors are also involved with Child and Family Services, and have mental health issues including substance abuse.

"Unfortunately, many other cases just like this one occur in Manitoba and across the country, and involve the abuse and sexual exploitation of children," Champagne said in his decision.

Pearce pleaded not guilty and went to trial for offences related to one of the survivors. He was found guilty of sexual interference and obtaining sexual services from a person under 18.

Because Pearce entered a not-guilty plea for these charges, the 15-year-old survivor was required to testify at trial — which Champagne said resulted in a longer sentence.

"I witnessed her reluctance, anxiety and anger during the trial," Champagne said.

"It is clear to me that this incident has affected her emotional health and well being."

In January, Pearce changed his pleas to guilty for the second set of identical charges related to the 14-year-old survivor.

Manitoba youth exploitation high: StatCan

Pearce met both girls on separate occasions, court heard at his sentencing. He had sex with the 15-year-old survivor once, and with the 14-year-old survivor twice.

Bueti said at Pearce's sentencing her client never intentionally sought out minors, and has realized he has a sex addiction.

"This has been his rock bottom," said Bueti.

Champagne said the fact Pearce is more than 30 years older than the survivors resulted in a longer sentence.

"That wide age difference is an aggravating factor, as the accused bears the responsibility for preventing adult-youth sexual activity," said Champagne.

The growing problem of youth sex exploitation also played a role in his sentencing decision, Champagne said.

High rates in Manitoba

Sexual violations against children are on the rise, according to the most recent statistics available from Statistics Canada. In 2017, there were 8,046 incidents reported to police across the country, or 22 per 100,000 people — an eight per cent increase since 2016.

Manitoba has one of the highest rates of sexual violations against children across the country. In 2017, there were 498 offences reported in the province — a rate of 37 per 100,000 people.

Champagne said Pearce's background — including his long work history, clean criminal record, family support and average risk to reoffend — resulted in a lower sentence than what the Crown recommended.

"The moral culpability of the offender is high in relation to both victims," Champagne said.

"[But] it is clear from the pre-sentence report that Mr. Pearce has accepted responsibility for his criminal behaviour."

Champagne sentenced Pearce to a total of 60 months in prison, which will be reduced by eight days for time he served in custody.

Because he was convicted of multiple offences with different victims, Pearce must register with the Sex Offender Information Registration Act for life, Champagne said.