New Brunswick

Nursing home volunteer sentenced to 15 months for 'despicable' sex assaults

An 81-year-old man who fondled the breasts of three former residents at the Fundy Nursing Home in Blacks Harbour has been sentenced to 15 months in jail and two years of probation.

Eric Watson, 81, fondled the breasts of 3 former residents at Fundy Nursing Home in Blacks Harbour

Eric Watson's actions affected not only his victims but also their families and the nursing home staff, the judge said during sentencing. (CBC)

An 81-year-old man who fondled the breasts of three former residents at the Fundy Nursing Home in Blacks Harbour has been sentenced to 15 months in jail and two years of probation.

Eric Watson has also been ordered not to have contact with the victims' families.

At the sentencing Tuesday, provincial court Judge Henrik Tonning described Watson's behaviour of touching the victims over their clothing as being on the "lower end of the despicable scale."

He said that was only in comparison to some of the other heinous sexual crimes considered by the courts.

Still, he said, the acts were demeaning.

And Watson's actions had impacted the families, who felt they'd let their parents down, the judge said.

Placing a loved one in somebody else's care is difficult enough and a case like this could only make it harder, Tonning said.

"These people are sitting ducks for this kind of activity."

They were assaulted in a place that was meant to be their home, their safe place, one of them even in her own bed.- Shara Munn, Crown prosecutor

At an earlier court date, Crown prosecutor Shara Munn asked for 18 months of incarceration followed by three years of probation.

"Mr. Watson targeted women who couldn't defend themselves nor tell anyone what happened to them," she said.

"They were assaulted in a place that was meant to be their home, their safe place, one of them even in her own bed."

Tonning said Watson's actions would have reflected poorly on the nursing home itself and must have impacted the people who worked there.

Denied wrongdoing

Some of those employees had testified that Watson's behaviour triggered their suspicions as far back as 2013.

It wasn't until 2016 that one nurse reported catching him in the act, which was then reported to the police.

Watson testified in his own defence that he'd never done anything wrong.

He said he was a regular visitor to the home, first to visit his own father, then to serve as a volunteer after his father died.

Watson said he provided friendship and comfort to some of the female residents when they were in distress.

He said he also assisted them in getting around.

'Otherwise unblemished life'

The judge rejected Watson's denials and on Feb. 18 found him guilty of three counts of sexual assault.

All three victims have since died but a publication ban still protects their identities.

The judge noted that Watson had no prior criminal record.

"He lived an otherwise unblemished life," he said.

Tonning also said it was often good character that allowed people to get into positions where they could commit "these kinds of crimes."

Watson was cautioned during his last court appearance to expect to get jail time.

After sentencing, he was taken into custody.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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