8-year sentence sought for Yellowknife man who had sex with underage girls

Joshua Desjarlais, 27, argued he believed three victims were over the age 16

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Prosecutors are calling for an eight-year sentence for a Yellowknife man who admitted to having sex with three underage girls when he was 25.

Joshua Desjarlais, 27, was convicted on three counts of sexual assault after trial. In Yellowknife in September 2017, Desjarlais had sex with three girls under the age of 16 over a two-week period. He admitted to doing so to police in October 2017, after initially denying it.

At trial in February, the perpetrator’s lawyer, Scott Cowan, mounted a “mistaken belief in age” defence, arguing his client believed the three victims were over the age of 16 because they told him they were.

In Canada, a person must be over the age of 16 to consent to sex.

Joshua Desjarlais, 27, pictured in an undated online photo.
June 21, 2019.

Cowan said his client’s belief was reaffirmed because the girls “looked older,” held jobs, drank and consumed drugs.

In April, Justice Shannon Smallwood rejected Desjarlais’ defence, ruling he did not take all reasonable steps to determine the victims’ actual ages. She said it appeared Desjarlais was “disinterested” in learning how old they really were.

The victims testified in court about being at Desjarlais’ city apartment when the sexual assaults occurred. Alcohol and cocaine, provided by Desjarlais, were often involved, they said.

On Friday, Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane cited the presence of cocaine as an aggravating factor in his recommendation for an eight-year sentence, calling for two three-year sentences and one two-year sentence to be imposed consecutively, meaning the sentences would be stacked on top of one another.

Following changes to the Criminal Code in 2015, courts have imposed tougher sentences on offenders convicted of sex crimes against children. Perpetrators convicted of sexually assaulting a victim under the age of 16 face a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail, and a 14-year maximum sentence – a change from 10 years.

The Criminal Code was also amended to require courts to impose “consecutive sentences (on offenders) who commit sexual offences against children.”

Defence calls for significantly less time 

Cowan asked the court to consider a significantly shorter sentence of four to four-and-a-half years.

He called the Crown’s sentence recommendation “crushing.”

Fane argued the recommendation is in step with Parliament’s evolved message to the courts on sex crimes against children: that this type of offence won’t be tolerated.

The prosecutor pointed out that even if there appeared to be consent, there wasn’t – and couldn’t be – because a child under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex.

In a letter he read in front of the court, Desjarlais took full responsibility for his actions and said he was drinking and using cocaine daily at the time of the offences.

Cowan told the court Desjarlais – originally from Fort Smith – was in foster care as a child when his mother was incarcerated. He later lived with his grandparents, who were residential school survivors, and witnessed dysfunction and fighting in the home.

At the time of the offences, Desjarlais was living a dangerous lifestyle, said Cowan.

“The arrest may have even saved his life,” his lawyer said.

The Crown is calling for an order that would require Desjarlais to register as a sex offender for life.

Desjarlais has been in custody since his arrest in October 2017. With remand credit – 1.5 days for every day spent in custody – that amounts to nearly two-and-half years, which will be deducted from whatever sentence he receives.

Desjarlais received a 60-day sentence while in custody at North Slave Correctional Complex (NSCC) for threatening a guard.

Smallwood is expected to give her decision on June 28.