Man accused of sexually assaulting three underage girls awaits fate

Joshua Desjarlais, 27, says he believed teens were over 16 at time of alleged offences

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A Yellowknife man charged with having sex with three teenage girls will learn his fate next week.

Joshua Desjarlais, 27, faces three counts of sexual assault. He’s alleged to have had sex with two 14 year-old girls and one 15-year-old girl over a two-week span in September of 2017 in Yellowknife.

Desjarlais was 25 at the time.

In October 2017, Desjarlais told police that the sex was consensual and he thought they were of age.

In cases such as this, where an accused uses a “mistaken belief in age” defence, a judge must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did not take all necessary steps to determine the age of the complainant for a conviction to be handed down.

In a judge-alone trial in February, two of the three complainants testified.

One of witnesses testified that she had sex with Desjarlais, and that it was “likely consensual.” A second complainant was clear her sexual encounter with Desjarlais was not consensual.

The third complainant, who had been using a testimonial aid to block her from having to see Desjarlais in court, halted her testimony and left the courthouse. Without her evidence, the Crown is relying on Desjarlais’s admission to secure a conviction.

Through testimony, the court heard the complainants visited Desjarlais’s apartment over the two-week period in question, where cocaine and alcohol were allegedly supplied by the accused to the teenage girls.

One of the complainants detailed drug-fueled sexual encounters with Desjarlais.

During the trial, defence lawyer Scott Cowan argued that his client was told the girls were of age, and that he believed them.

One complainant testified she told Desjarlais she was 18, adding it was “kind of a joke.”

Cowan noted the complainants held jobs, didn’t appear to be in school, had “easy access” to alcohol, wore makeup and “looked older” than they were. Based on this information, along with what his client claims he was told by the girls regarding their ages, Cowan said Desjarlais was led to a “reasonable belief” each of the complainants were over the age of 16.

Prosecutor Morgan Fane said the age indicators used by the defence could just as easily describe a young person under the age of 16. Fane said the accused’s claim that he believed the girls were over 16 by virtue of their drinking and drug use did not hold much weight.

Fane argued Desjarlais did not have a “reasonable belief” the girls were of age, and that he was “willfully blind” to that fact.

Justice Shannon Smallwood has been left to decide the accused’s fate.

A decision was expected on Wednesday, but Smallwood offered counsel a chance to review and make submissions on a two-week-old Supreme Court of Canada ruling relevant to the case.

Outside of the Yellowknife Courthouse, Cowan said the defence’s position has been consistent with what his client told police when he first spoke to them in October 2017.

“He was told that they were of age and he believed they were of age and thus there was no offence being committed,” he said, adding “we now know they were under 16.”

The Crown submits it has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Desjarlais did not take all reasonable steps to ascertain the complainants’ ages, and therefore didn’t have a reasonable belief they were of age, committing the offences as a result.

Smallwood is expected to give her decision on April 10.

In Canada, a person must be 16 or older to legally consent to sex. There are exceptions in in which a 14 or 15 year old can legally consent to sex, but only if their partner is less than five years older and not in a position of trust or authority.

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