Modern sentencing trends apply in historical sexual assault: BC Court of Appeal

Assault happened in the 1970s, revealed 40 years later

Modern sentencing trends apply in historical sexual assault: BC Court of Appeal
Sentences 40 years ago were more lenient than today, said the court

British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld the severity of the sentence of an accused guilty of sexual assault in the 1970s, rejecting the argument that the “upward trend” in severity does not apply.

R.O. was adopted into M.L.’s wider family as an infant. Between 1974 and 1977, R.O. sexually touched ML and  onat least one occasion, anally penetrated ML. The offenses were revealed 40 years after the fact.

In 2021, R.O. was convicted of indecent assault, as it was called at the time of the offense. He was sentenced to four years’ incarceration. His conviction appeals were dismissed in August 2022.

R.O. appealed his sentence, arguing that the judge failed to give effect to the parity principle. He alleged that his sentence should similarly be situated in the 1970s and the “upward shift” in sentencing severity should not apply to historical offenses such as his.

The appellate court disagreed.

Historical sexual assault sentence follows modern trends

In R. v. R.O., 2023 BCCA 65, the appellate court considered the fact that R.O.’s acts happened before the Friesen case, where the court affirmed the need to impose sentences proportional to the wrongfulness and harm against children. However, the appellate court ruled that the sentencing judge did not err in applying current sentencing law in determining the appellant’s sentence.

The appellate court rejected considering changes in maximum sentences to affect sentencing analysis. This approach was consistent with its previous ruling that legislative changes are a signal of society’s denunciation of and understanding of the gravity of the offense, said the court.

“It would be contrary to justice and to ‘society’s deepened understanding of the wrongfulness and harmfulness of sexual violence against children and the far-reaching and on-going harm that it causes’ to use the moral, social, and legal standards at the time of the offence uninformed by these considerations at the time of sentencing,” said the court.

As such, the appellate court dismissed the appeal.

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