A year in jail for a gymnastics instructor who sent a sexually explicit photo to an underage girl he once coached would not amount to cruel and unusual punishment, a NWT judge ruled late last week.
Ricky Lee Sutherland, 50, pleaded guilty in May to one count of luring a child under the age of 18 for the purpose of facilitating a child pornography offence – a conviction that triggers an automatic mandatory sentence of one year in jail.
Sutherland, a one-time coach at a city gymnastics club, sent several messages to a Yellowknife teenage girl via the popular social media platform Snapchat – which allows users to send messages and photos that disappear in a matter of seconds – in February of 2017, including an image of his penis.
Sutherland’s lawyer Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass challenged the mandatory one-year jail term, arguing the sentence would amount to cruel and unusual punishment for her client, thus violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Whitecloud-Brass said the mandatory minimum, in Sutherland’s case, would place the 50-year-old in the same category as sexual predators – something she said Sutherland is not.
Whitecloud-Brass said Sutherland’s “mistake,” would impact his family – of whom he is the sole provider – immensely. She noted Sutherland never threatened the victim or physically assaulted her and argued her client is not a threat to the public.
Prosecutor Morgan Fane argued the one-year minimum is there to send an important message: To denounce and deter offenders in an age when children are becoming increasingly vulnerable to sexual exploitation due to social media.
NWT Justice Louise Charbonneau said the mandatory minimum sentence in Sutherland’s case would not violate the Charter, and dismissed the application on Friday.
A sentencing hearing for Sutherland has been scheduled for Aug. 19.
Ultimately, at the least, Sutherland will receive a one-year sentence, but he could be handed a longer jail term as prosecutors will be calling for a one-and-half-year sentence.