Nova Scotia

Former Cape Breton Mi'kmaq chief jailed for sexual assault

A former Cape Breton Mi'kmaq chief was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious 20-year-old woman at a Dartmouth hotel in spring 2006.

A former Cape Breton Mi'kmaq chief was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious 20-year-old woman at a Dartmouth hotel in spring 2006.

Wilbert Joseph Marshall, 39, was convicted on the charge by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury in January. The former chief of the Chapel Island First Nation was automatically stripped of his position.

At sentencing in Halifax Thursday, Chief Justice Joseph Kennedy described Marshall's behaviour as "disgraceful."

Kennedy said that as the woman's chief, Marshall should have fostered and encouraged her ambition to better herself. If he couldn't do that, the judge told Marshall, at least he should have left her alone.

The court heard that Marshall stopped at a home where the young woman was studying and convinced her to accompany him to a Dartmouth strip club.

Court heard that after a night of drinking, Marshall had sex with the young woman after she had passed out. Court also heard that the woman was covered in vomit.

Kennedy said Marshall's behaviour was not that of "your model community leader."

Emotional trauma

Referring to the woman's victim impact statement, which was not read in court, Crown attorney Perry Borden noted that she is still suffering from emotional trauma.

In the statement, the woman said she feels dirty, ashamed and even ostracized from her community. The woman is now 23 years old and a first-year university student.

Borden asked for a sentence of three to four years in prison.

Defence lawyer Joel Pink argued for an 18-month conditional sentence to be followed by two years' probation.

Addressing the court, Marshall said he didn't understand at the time what consent meant and that he was sorry for what happened.

"Anyway, I'm sorry," Marshall concluded.

Outside court, Borden said the sentence sends a message.

"I think for Mr. Marshall, in particular, and like-minded individuals who may ponder having sex with somebody's who's unconscious, this will be at least in the back of their minds that, 'Three years is what I'm looking at should I be convicted of the same,'" he told reporters.

'Called it as he saw it'

Outside court, Pink said he was not surprised by the sentence.

"There were several cases that went anywhere from a conditional sentence to up to four years in jail, so it could have been worse. The chief justice called it as he saw it," Pink said.

He said it was too early to say if he would consider an appeal.

In closing arguments to the jury in January, Pink described the case as one of "he said, she said."

Pink told jurors they should believe Marshall, who testified that the woman consented to having sex with him. Pink said although the woman testified that she did not remember consenting, that doesn't mean she did not agree to have sex.

Borden told the jury that the woman didn't remember getting to the hotel or giving consent to sexual activity. She only remembered waking up with a sheet over her face, Borden said, and Marshall having sex with her. It was only later that she discovered she had a black eye.

The jury took about three hours to convict Marshall.

A few days later, Marshall was stripped of his position as chief.

Under the Indian Act, the office of the chief or councillor becomes vacant when the person who holds that office is convicted of an indictable offence.