Five-year sentence for man convicted of sexually assaulting underage girls

Joshua Desjarlais, 27, said he believed girls were of age

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A Yellowknife man who admitted to having sex with three underage girls received a five-year sentence Friday after being convicted of sexual assault earlier this year.

Twenty-seven-year-old Joshua Desjarlais was 25 when he had sex with two 14-year-old girls and one 15-year-old girl during a two-week period in September 2017. He was on probation at the time of the offences.

By law in Canada, a person must be 16 years of age or older to consent to sex.

At trial, Desjarlais argued he believed all three of the victims were of age, claiming they told him they were. His lawyer, Scott Cowan, said Desjarlais’ belief was backed up by the victims’ appearances – he said they “looked older” – and because they drank and consumed drugs.

The assaults took place at Desjarlais’ apartment, where he provided the victims with alcohol and cocaine.

NWT Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood rejected his defence.

She ruled Desjarlais did not take all reasonable steps to determine how old each of the victims really were. He was convicted on three counts of sexual assault.

Prosecutors called for an eight-year sentence.

Sexual assaults against children under the age of 16 carry a mandatory sentence of one year in jail. In cases where an offender commits multiple sexual assaults against children under 16, courts must impose consecutive sentences for each conviction.

Desjarlais’ lawyer recommended four to four-and-a-half years – significantly less than what the Crown had called for.

Smallwood reminded the court that children under the age of 16 are “incapable of consenting to sex” with adults, saying there’s a “need to protect them even when they think it’s acceptable conduct.”

She added it’s important to remember “Desjarlais was the adult in these situations.”

Smallwood said it’s clear the sexual assaults have left enduring negative impacts on the lives of the victims.

The Crown’s eight-year recommendation wasn’t excessive, but failed to adequately consider the totality of the case, she said. Given Desjarlais’ circumstances and background as a Indigenous offender – He has been in custody since his arrest in October 2017 – an eight-year sentence would be “crushing.”

Desjarlais, “like many Aboriginal offenders, has been affected by violence, drug and alcohol abuse and dysfunction,” said Smallwood.

With credit for time spent in remand custody, he has just over two-and-a-half years left to serve.

Desjarlais must register as a sex offender for life. For three years after his release, he is barred from pursuing employment in an environment where he’d be in a position of trust or authority over anyone under the age of 16.