Harassment included defamatory letters to ex-partner's professional contacts
The Alberta Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal of a sentence for criminal harassment of an ex-partner, finding that the accused’s behaviour fell at the high end of the sentencing range.
In R v. Sheppard, 2022 ABCA 307, Robert John Sheppard had been in an intimate partner relationship with an unnamed complainant. In 2018, Sheppard was charged with attempted murder of the complainant. While he was incarcerated, he wrote letters to the Alberta Teachers’ Association, the University of Lethbridge, and the Minister of Education, alleging that the complainant had sexual relationship with a former student and had used illegal drugs with that student. In his letters, Sheppard said the acts of the complainant were “actions of a predator or a pedophile.”
The Ministry of Education investigated the matter and found that Sheppard’s complaints had no merit and were vexatious. The trial judge likewise ruled that the “various letters are false, they are lies… manufactured in the mind of Sheppard.”
The complainant claimed that as a result of Sheppard’s letters, she suffered from an overwhelming emotional turmoil from what she perceived as physical, mental, emotional, and ‘professional’ abuse. She further expressed fear that Sheppard would continue to harass her and that he would try to kill her.
The trial judge imposed a sentence of 18 months on Sheppard for criminal harassment. Sheppard appealed the sentence, arguing that the victim impact statement of the complainant was problematic, the facts of the offence were not entirely clear, sentences currently being served by him were miscounted, and the sentencing judge did not give him a chance to speak prior to passing sentence.
Victim impact statement
Under the Criminal Code, when determining the sentence to be imposed, the court will consider any statement of a victim describing the physical or emotional harm, property damage, or economic loss suffered as the result of the offence.
Sheppard argued that the complainant’s impact statement included an executive summary of an Oxford study from the Centre of Criminology, which he claimed was “likely irrelevant and impermissible evidence.”
The court, however, found that the Oxford study was not read into the record by the sentencing judge and he did not reference it in his sentencing analysis. While the appeal court emphasized that the victim impact statement should have been properly edited first by counsel and then by the court, there was no evidence which suggested that the sentencing judge relied on any inadmissible portions of the statement. The appeal court ultimately upheld the presumption that judges knew the law and applied it properly.
Sheppard also advanced the argument that the sentence imposed was demonstrably unfit, excessive, and “unmoored from the general jurisprudence.” In this regard, the trial court observed that criminal harassment covered a wide range of conduct and moral blameworthiness. Sentences ranged from a short conditional sentence to lengthy terms of imprisonment, depending on the seriousness of the harassment, its duration, and the offender’s background. Given the circumstances of the case, the sentencing judge ruled that Sheppard’s behaviour fell at the high end of the sentencing range. In any case, this was further reduced due to the principles of restraint and totality.
After considering the cited case authorities as well as the context and all the circumstances of the case, the appeal court concluded that the sentence imposed on Sheppard was not demonstrably unfit or excessively long. The court found it proper to dismiss Sheppard’s appeal of the sentence imposed on him.