The Current

'Justice can wait': advocate says leniency for convicted sex offenders ignores victims' rights

When it comes to sentencing, critics are arguing the criminal justice system is too lenient and accommodating to the men convicted of sexual assault.
Connor Neurauter, 21, was convicted in a Kamloops, B.C. court last week after pleading guilty to a charge of sexual interference with a 13-year-old girl in 2015. (Facebook)

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In three recent Canadian criminal cases, the justice system has been under fire for being too accommodating when sentencing young white men convicted of sexual violence against women. 

Last week, 21-year-old Connor Neurauter was convicted of sexual interference with a 13-year-old girl — and sentenced to three months in jail.

The judge delayed sentencing until May so Neurauter could finish his school year at the University of Calgary — a decision the victim's mother calls "unjust."

And she's not alone in her reaction to this accommodation. A petition signed by over 33,000 people — a number that keeps climbing — has called on the university to expel the convicted sex offender. 

I just see a complete refusal to weigh the rights of the victim against the rights of the accused.- Barb MacQuarrie

"While the courts have seemingly failed the victim, the University now has the opportunity to help change the narrative," the petition reads, imploring the university "to take a stand against sexual violence."

Stories that ignore victim's rights to accommodate offenders infuriate Barb MacQuarrie, who is with the Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women and Children at Western University. 

Connor Neurauter was sentenced to 89 days in jail but he won't have to serve his sentence until he finishes his semester at the University of Calgary. (Facebook)

"I just see a complete refusal to weigh the rights of the victim against the rights of the accused," she tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti, citing the negligence of adhering to the Canadian Victim Bill of Rights.

"We see lots of accommodations for offenders in not wanting to harm their future. I see no indication that anybody has thought about what those offences are going to mean for the victims and their futures," MacQuarrie says.

Justice delayed

The impact of accommodating offenders with lenient sentencing diminishes the seriousness of the crime, MacQuarrie says, giving the impression that "justice can wait."

Accommodating university students
in the justice system

Connor Neurauter is not the only young man to get what many are calling preferential treatment by the courts. 

In Newfoundland, 20-year-old Lancelot Saunders pleaded guilty to assaulting his girlfriend earlier this year. He was given an absolute discharge, with the judge noting his plan to go to university and move on with his life. 

And a Queen's University student named Chance Macdonald pleaded guilty last April to assaulting a teenage girl at a house party. His sentencing was delayed until August, so as not to disrupt a four-month internship, which he needed to continue on as a Queen's business student. 

MacQuarrie takes issue with the way Canadian courts — and the entire criminal justice system — deals with survivors.

"It's very difficult for survivors to get there in the first place. It's very difficult for them to be heard, to be believed, to even get a conviction," she explains. 

In addition, since survivors are not privy to negotiations around plea bargains and sentencing, the rights of the victim are again denied, says MacQuarrie.

"This is not taking into consideration the impact that these crimes have had on them and how it affects them. They're looking for some kind of closure of these criminal justice processes so that they can move on with their lives. And so it seems to be okay to leave their lives hanging in the balance."

Where are the victim services?

Another way the criminal justice system fails victims, says Jonathan Rudin with Aboriginal Legal Services, is victims are expected to participate in a process without support, there are no services provided.

"They should be getting counselling. They should be able to start working on their healing right away," Rudin says, adding that his clients convicted of sexual offences were often abused as a child and didn't get the help they needed.

One of the things that we often say is justice is blind and that's not true at all.- Michael Spratt, defence lawyer

Rudin notes equating a sentence to the experience of a victim is also a disservice.

"I think one of the problems in the criminal justice system is that we tell victims the value we place on what happened to them is reflected in the sentence we give the offender, so that turns it into a zero-sum game — whatever the offender gets, the victim doesn't get."

Justice is not blind

According to defence lawyer Michael Spratt, it's no coincidence that in recent cases where accommodations were made in sentencing, all three men were white and heading to university. 

"One of the things that we often say is justice is blind and that's not true at all. If you're white, if you're privileged, you're treated differently," Spratt tells Tremonti.

He suggests the way to correct this is not to remove so-called accommodations from some people but to make sure that individuals who are not privileged are "not treated more harshly because they have been marginalized and disadvantaged."

"It's something that we don't do well in the justice system but I think it's an issue that eyes are being opened to in the last number of years."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this page — which includes CBC reporter Bryan Labby, who has covered the Connor Neurauter case in Calgary.

This segment was produced by The Current's John Chipman and Rosa Kim.