The predator you warn your children about is not always the stranger lurking in the shadows.
What a Niagara family didn’t consider was the monsters who hide in plain sight.
A 66-year-old man was recently sentenced to three months behind bars in an Ontario Court of Justice in St. Catharines after he pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual interference involving an eight-year-old girl.
The parents of the victim are outraged by the sentence and says the time has come for Canada to reconsider penalties for sex offenders.
“It’s so frustrating,” said the child’s mother. “He will serve his three months, which he’ll actually only serve probably two thirds of that, and then that’s it… he can continue to live his life. My daughter is going to have to live with the effects of this for the next 80 years.”
James, his real name withheld in order to protect the identity of his daughter, said he would have liked to see the offender jailed for at least two years.
“If they want to eradicate this from society, we’re going to need deterrent sentences,” he said.
“You need to throw the book at these people so the next one stops and thinks ‘wow, if I get caught I’m going away for years and will lose everything.’ This slap on the wrist (expletive) needs to stop.”
Theresa, also not her real name, said she and her husband did everything right, took the proper precautions to protect their children.
They’re both university educated. Theresa put her career on hold so her children would not be placed in a daycare. When she returned to the workforce, she only worked during school hours.
When she needed a few hours of after-school care, she left her children with people she could trust, an older couple who the kids thought of as their adopted grandparents — the defendant and his wife.
“How could I allow this wolf in sheep’s clothing to be an integral part of our loving family?” Theresa said in court after the man pleaded guilty.
In his sentencing decision, Judge Joseph De Filippis told the parents not to be consumed by guilt.
“The defendant’s moral culpability is high; he abused a young girl and violated the trust she and her parents placed in him. The parents understandably feel guilty about their faith in the defendant. However, they could not have known what would happen and are not at fault.”
When the child disclosed she had been molested, Theresa said her family embarked on an “excruciating and horrible roller-coaster ride” that continues to this day.
There were agonizing interviews with police and Family and Children’s Services of Niagara. The court process was unfamiliar and intimidating.
The offender was arrested in March 2019. He pleaded guilty 11 months later and the sentencing was put over on several occasions due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The defendant cannot be named due to a publication ban put in place to protect the identity of the victim.
“Nobody knows who he is,” Theresa said. “It’s to protect her, I get it, but sometimes it feels like it’s protecting him more than her.”
While the criminal case ended in late July, the family say their child remains “locked in a prison she cannot escape from.”
Theresa said her daughter disclosed additional inappropriate incidents by the man which were not included in the court proceedings.
Securing consistent aftercare counselling has been a challenge.
The government phased out the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which assessed financial compensation for victims and family members of victims of violent crimes committed in Ontario, in 2019.
Support and services for victims of crime are now provided through the Victim Quick Response Program, which only covers emergency and essential expenses, and short-term counselling.
The family quickly filled their quota, as well as limited counselling offered through FACS, and only a few sessions are available to them each year under their insurance.
“Is that fair?” the mother asked.
The family was supported through the court process by the Niagara chapter of Guardians of the Children Canada.
The non-profit organization is made up of volunteers, all motorcycle enthusiasts, who have a passion for helping children who have been abused.
“We connected with the family, attended court hearings and provided them with comfort as well as information and connections throughout the community to help support them and get them through the process as comfortably and confidently as possible,” said Storm, president of the local chapter.
Members hold adoption rides in honour of the children they help, and each receives a vest and “road name” to provide further support and to promote confidence.
In March 2019, court was told, the victim was having a sleepover at the St. Catharines home the man shares with his wife, when the man she called “uncle” molested her.
He told her not to tell anyone what happened because she’d never be able to see him again. He later suggested the girl’s memory was “a bad dream.”
The retired plumber later confessed to police and said he is “not a monster…this was a one-time thing…I have shattered this little girl.”
His wife remains supportive of her husband.
Theresa says her daughter disclosed additional incidents of inappropriate behaviour, which she says was not included as a factor at sentencing.
Defence counsel David Protomanni said his client, who did not have a prior criminal record, accepts responsibility for his actions and is “devastated” by what he did.
“Sentencing is an art and a judge uses many factors outlined in the Criminal Code to apply a just sentence,” he said.
“Ultimately, the decision is up to the judge regardless of submissions made by defence counsel and the Crown.”
Protomanni said the man is undergoing counselling and will continue with counselling programs once he is released from custody.
“Should he not continue counselling, he would be in breach of his court order and could face a further criminal charge,” the lawyer said.
Upon his release, the offender will be on probation for two years and is banned from having any contact with anyone under the age of 16 unless his wife is present. His name will appear on the federal sex offender registry for 10 years.