Quebec man guilty of sexual assault gets conditional discharge so he can travel for work
Judge says perpetrator 'greatly regrets his actions,' has shown he's a 'person of good character'
Warning: This story contains disturbing details of sexual assault. A list of resources for people who have experienced sexual violence appears at the end of the article.
Victims' rights advocates are denouncing a decision by a Quebec judge to grant a conditional discharge to a Trois-Rivières man who pleaded guilty to sexual assault and voyeurism, so he can travel for his work as an engineer.
In April 2019, Simon Houle, then a 27-year-old mechanical engineering student at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, sexually assaulted a sleeping woman during a party in an apartment.
In his decision, Quebec court Judge Matthieu Poliquin described how the victim was "awoken by the light from a camera. She felt fingers in her vagina moving back and forth." Her camisole was hiked up and her bra detached from the front.
A few days later, a friend of the perpetrator who was aware of the event looked into Houle's phone. "He then found, in the trash bin of the device, photos of a woman's private parts," the judge said.
Nine photos were recovered from Houle's cell phone. They were shown to the victim, who recognized her body.
Houle pleaded guilty to the charges in 2021.
The Crown sought an 18-month sentence for Houle, however, in a decision released last month, Poliquin handed Houle a conditional discharge with three months' probation.
Poliquin said for Houle, the consequences of a criminal record "would have particularly negative and disproportionate consequences for him, since he would have difficulty travelling outside the country, which could hamper his career as an engineer."
Houle, who has worked for manufacturing company Canimex Group since 2018, has yet to be required to travel for his job.
On Monday, Canimex's vice-president of human resources, Michel Goulet, said the company was "concerned" about the judgment and said Houle would be required to continue working from home and would be prohibited from participating in social activities with his colleagues.
In a subsequent statement to Radio-Canada Tuesday, Goulet said Houle has been informed his employment at the company has been terminated for the moment.
'Desire for transparency'
Houle, who was convicted of impaired driving in 2014, has no prior criminal record involving the use of force against others.
He sought therapy shortly after the sexual assault and voyeurism charges were laid, said the judge in his sentencing ruling, and he admitted to sexually assaulting another woman in 2015, for which he was never charged.
This admission, although "disturbing," according to Poliquin, "demonstrates [Houle's] desire for transparency" and his serious approach to rehabilitation.
Poliquin noted that Houle pleaded guilty to the 2019 attack, that he "greatly regrets his actions" and was so ashamed of what he had done that he never told his father and brothers of the charges laid against him.
Although the judge emphasized the "intrusive and serious nature of the crimes" committed against a victim "in a state of great vulnerability," he said the assault was quick and Houle's state of drunkenness, while not an excuse for his actions, partly explains his behaviour.
According to Poliquin, Houle has demonstrated that he is a "person of good character," that he committed his crimes during a specific period of his life and that those crimes do not represent the person he wants to be.
In order "not to trivialize" what Houle did, Poliquin said, he ordered the perpetrator to donate $6,000 to the Trois-Rivières sexual assault centre, the Centre d'aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel (CALACS).
'Angry' and 'saddened' for all victims
A close friend of the victim, who has also known the perpetrator for several years, said he was "enraged" that Houle did not receive a harsher sentence.
"He has nothing. It's unbelievable," he said in an interview with Radio-Canada. The man requested anonymity in order not to identify the complainant, whose identity is subject to a publication ban.
A spokesperson for the Trois-Rivières CALACS, Camille Souza, said the centre is "disconcerted" by the decision, calling it unfair to the victim because it "once again" defends the attacker.
"We were angry. We were saddened for the victim — for all the victims," said Souza.
A spokesperson for the local victims' assistance service (CAVAC), Karine Gagnon, said she is concerned Poliquin's decision will undermine victims' confidence in the justice system.
"When a victim hears these kinds of things ... it can prevent them from [filing a complaint]," she said.
The judge described Houle as having had a "positive family background" and "the opportunity to become a useful person in the community."
Lawyer and feminist researcher Suzanne Zaccour said Houle's social status likely had a "subtle and pernicious" influence on the decision.
"If an accused came from a more disadvantaged background or had a less prestigious career, he would not have this card to say, 'My career is important, and I cannot have a criminal record,'" she said.
Crown to appeal sentence
On Tuesday, Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) said it will appeal Houle's sentence.
"A motion for permission to appeal is being drafted and will be filed with the Court of Appeal registry by July 21," the DPCP said in a statement.
The victim has been notified, the DPCP said, adding it could not comment further on the case.
Contacted by Radio-Canada, Houle and his lawyer, Pierre Spain, declined to comment.
There are resources and supports available to anyone who has experienced sexual violence:
- Quebec's Sexual Violence Helpline: Call 1-888-933‑9007.
- Crime Victims Assistance Centres (CAVAC): Call 1-866-532‑2822.
- SOS violence conjugale: Call 1 -800-363‑9010.
- CALACS: 1 -877-717‑5252.
- Here is a list of sexual assault centres, crisis lines and support services elsewhere in Canada.
Based on reporting by Radio-Canada's Geneviève Garon, with files from Sabrina Jonas