Old Order Mennonite makes emotional apology in child assault sentencing
A 32-year-old Old Order Mennonite man made an emotional apology to the children, the RCMP and the child welfare system at his assault sentencing hearing in Brandon Wednesday.
The man previously pleaded guilty to five counts of assault with a weapon and one count of assault. He'll have to wait until at least April 11 to be sentenced.
The Crown asked for 18 months in custody for the 32-year-old man, who cannot be named in order to protect the victims in the case. CBC News is also not identifying the insular horse-and-buggy community.
The Crown gave a lengthy history of the case Wednesday morning, detailing how children in the community were abused with cattle prods, straps and by the hands of their abusers between 2011 and 2013.
One child suffered nerve damage
Court heard that one of the children sustained nerve damage while others sustained bruising as a result of the prolonged abuse that, the Crown said, took place because "zealous adults conceived that strong punishments were necessary to save the children from the sin of lust."
"The adults came to believe (mistakenly) that most of the children in their community had been sexually active with their parents and other siblings," Crown attorney James Ross stated in a written submission.
The defence made its submission Wednesday afternoon. It included a letter of apology, read by the man to court quietly and with obvious emotion.
"Quite clearly he's remorseful," defence lawyer Scott Newman said, adding the man took responsibility for his actions in the early stages and has engaged with CFS to learn new ways to parent.
"The important thing is that the accused expressed significant remorse for his role in what had happened and took full responsibility and he's prepared to face the sanction the court hands down to him," Newman said outside of court.
"There will be a period or an attempt at reconciliation. My client indicated he wants to reach out and make apologies to all those that he's hurt and all those that have been affected by his actions and we'll have to see whether or not people are prepared to accept his attempts at making amends."
Many members of the small Old Order Mennonite community arrived at the Brandon courthouse on a school bus. A few sat with their heads down during the hearing. They declined a request for comment.
Child abuse investigation into excessive discipline
Meanwhile, another man entered guilty pleas on Wednesday morning to seven counts of assault with a weapon and one count of assault. The 58-year-old man is considered to be the community's leader, described as a "main actor" in the case. He will be sentenced at a later date.
All these charges stem from a child abuse investigation in which social workers apprehended 42 children from 10 families. That was all but one of the community's children.
So far, 38 have been returned and are living with their parents, who are receiving counselling and parenting courses. Two of the children have been made permanent wards of Child and Family Services.
While in foster care, many of the children have been exposed to modern technologies they would not have seen at home, from electricity and running water, to television and the internet. Two teenage children are now refusing to return to their conservative Christian community.
Originally, 13 people were charged in connection with excessive discipline – in some cases, involving straps, whips, and cattle prods.
In 2014, charges against four men and four women were stayed. They agreed to peace bonds to enter into counselling and have no contact with the other accused.
In addition to today's sentence, two other community members are already serving time ranging from six months to one year for their assault charges. A woman was sentenced to three years' probation for her role in shocking two girls with a cattle prod, and strapping another one.
According to Crown submissions, not all of the men took part equally or performed all the acts alleged, but each took part in long-term repeated acts of harsh discipline of multiple children.
Apology letter to the court
We are gathered here today because of my wrongs. I have griefed many people due to my past conduct.
I am sorry how I treated the children. I did not treat the children with respect as a Christian should. And due to my conduct the children's trust and lives became shattered.
I believed the stories to be true at that time but now I want to say sorry to you all as I see that not all was as I was led to believe.
To the RCMP I want to say sorry for the time and money spent on my case. I am ashamed and deeply regret the past.
To the Child and Family Services I also want to say sorry. As I struggled to understand the legal system I did not always respond as would have been my duty. I also want to apologize for all the time and money spent because of my mistakes.
To the children, I want to say I am sorry how I treated you. It was not right what I did, nor was it a Christian example as was my duty. I am sorry I let you down. You suffered much and I caused you pain and distress.
For a long time I wished I could have permission to apologize to you. I want to live in such a way that you can feel the sincerity of my apology and that you can once again trust me to lead a godly walk of life which is also acceptable to our Heavenly Father. Again, I am very sorry for how I mistreated you, and I wish you strength and hope as you go on in life's journey.
I humbly ask you all for forgiveness for my wrongs. It is my desire and my goal to live in such a way that my regret of the past can be felt and seen. It is my desire to love and care for my wife and children.
I now want to accept what the Courts feel is fair judgement for my wrongdoings.
With files by CBC's Karen Pauls