On October 11, Judge Darin Chow of the Yorkton Provincial Court handed Trevor Latham a suspended sentence with 18 months probation for sexual assault.
Latham pleaded guilty to the charge September 10 for a January 10 incident involving a 12-year-old Yorkton girl.
Latham, a former school teacher in Sturgis—he was fired from GSSD at the first board meeting following his plea—was a friend of the girl’s father.
In the judge’s opinion this did not technically pass the test for a breach of trust situation which is defined as abusing “a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim.”
I know this is not going to be a popular decision. I have already heard from numerous people the typical reactions to sex offences involving children from “they should have locked him up and thrown away the key” to sentiments I am certain the publisher would not be comfortable putting in print.
I am not going to defend the judge’s decision nor condemn it. What I am going to do is try to explain why it was not a surprise that Latham did not get jail time.
Section 718 of the Criminal Code of Canada deals with the purpose and principles of sentencing.
First it states: “The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives....”
The first two of those objectives are denunciation and deterrence, which the next subsection prescribes to be of primary consideration for “an offence that involved the abuse of a person under the age of eighteen years.”
Next, 718 says, “A sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender,” that “a sentence should be increased or reduced to account for any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances” and that “a sentence should be similar to sentences imposed on similar offenders for similar offences committed in similar circumstances.”
These were the relevant issues according to Chow.
One could argue that anything short of jail is not adequate denunciation and deterrence, but with a suspended sentence and criminal record, Latham’s career is ruined, and he will face restrictions on his prospects and movement for life.
For a first-time offender considering the relative severity of the offence—some light touching and kissing that he stopped when the girl asked him to—it would have been difficult to impose to harsh a sentence especially when you consider the proportionality rule.
The pertinent case law cited by both Crown and Defence was Eric Tillman, the former General Manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who received an absolute discharge after admitting to molesting his children’s babysitter. The judge decided that the Latham case was slightly more serious than Tillman and that Latham had a higher degree of responsibility so proportionally he should receive slightly more serious consequences, which he did.
A debate will almost certainly ensue in the community about the adequacy of the sentence and perhaps even the law, but according to the Code, as it stands, it was a just sentence.