Editor’s note: The following story contains graphic content.
Sentencing is underway for a former top B.C. doctor convicted of child sexual assault in Grande Prairie earlier this year.
Dr. Albert de Villiers was convicted in February of sexual interference of a child and sexual assault following a three-day January trial.
The child de Villiers was convicted of abusing was between seven and nine years old when the incidents occurred, and according to victim impact statements heard in court on June 12 they left the child with physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.
The child’s mother, the first of three victim impact statements entered into the record, stated that the child “developed a pain in his heart, stress, and anxiety,” to the point that he had to go in for cardiac monitoring.
“The depression and anxiety will never be fully gone,” said the mother, in the statement.
The boy’s father, who noted he was not one for words, was more direct in his impact statement to de Villiers.
“I regret the day I met you,” said the father. “The way I feel, words cannot describe.”
The father continued that as a result of what had occurred, he now had a hard time trusting anyone anymore, and the family was forced to sell their home at a loss after just three years because their son no longer felt safe.
“I will never forgive you for what you have done.”
The child also had a victim impact statement read into the record.
“What you did to me was wrong, I trusted you,” wrote the child.
“You hurt me.”
Once the victim impact statements were read, the Crown prosecutor Amber Pickrell and the defence lawyer each presented their arguments for sentencing. Justice Shaina Leonard, who has presided throughout the entire trial, will have to consider both sides as she decides on an appropriate sentence as there is considerable distance between the two.
The defence lawyer, Amy Lind, who was requesting a four-year sentence in prison, presented around 30 reference letters, attesting to the character of de Villiers. They also asked the court to consider the degree of interference that occurred between de Villiers and the child, which was primarily touching through clothing, and the amount of media attention the case has already received due to his position, which has left him highly stigmatized in the community.
De Villiers was a former medical officer of health in Alberta’s northern zone before moving to Kelowna and becoming the chief medical officer for B.C.’s Interior Health.
Two other factors that Lind asked the justice to consider are that despite de Villiers’ role as a physician, the position of trust he broke was as one of a family friend. Lind argued that carries less weight than as one of a doctor, and that because of what has happened he will never be able to work in his job again, which also needs consideration.
A final argument presented by the defence is that de Villiers is at low risk of re-offending.
Pickrell alternatively argued that a sentence of six-to-eight years is more appropriate, based on case law and the seriousness of the crime.
Noting the Supreme Court has ruled that lower courts cannot continue to treat child sexual assault as lesser than adult cases, and that lower courts are “encouraged to recognize the harm done to children,” Pickrell asserted that six years should be a starting point for sentencing before aggravating factors are considered.
Pickrell also dismissed the defence’s assertion of de Villiers being a low risk, as he was “not a youthful offender” but an “educated older offender” who is facing separate, similar charges later this summer.
According to Pickrell, the Supreme Court states that “upper-single-digit” and “double-digit” sentences should not be held for exceptional cases and that this case did hold a number of aggravating factors.
Once the victim impact statements were read and the lawyers finished their presentations, Leonard recessed the proceedings until June 13, when she will present her judgment on sentencing.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include the name of defence counsel.