“I thought I was safe”

These are the words a 16-year-old woman used to describe how she felt when she attended a party in the Queen’s University student district with friends in October 2015.

It was not how she felt by the end of the evening, after 22-year-old Chance Macdonald, a hockey player and business student, made, according to her, “unwanted physical advances” toward her, including lying on top of her so she could not get away and putting his hands up her shirt and down her pants.

This party was like many others in a university town: some attendees, like Macdonald, were Queen’s students; others, like the young woman and her friends, were “townies.”

Going off the rails

Unlike many young women who are sexually assaulted, this woman reported what had happened to the police, who charged Macdonald with two counts of sexual assault and one count of forcible confinement.

From this point, the case headed in a direction that is all too familiar to many of us. After more than a year and a half of discussions between Macdonald’s lawyer and the Crown Attorney handling the case, an agreement was reached that Macdonald would enter a guilty plea to common assault and the three charges against him would be withdrawn.

According to the woman, who said she was terrified at the thought of going to court, she did not understand that the agreement meant Macdonald would not be pleading guilty to sexual assault. She says that the agreement was not discussed with her, or “if it was, it wasn’t spoken to me in a language a 16-year-old girl would understand.”

Whose interests come first?

Not only was Macdonald able to plead guilty to something much less serious than the charges that had been laid against him, he got a break on sentencing too. Justice Letourneau agreed that Macdonald should not lose his opportunity at a prestigious internship with Deloitte over the summer months, so sentencing was postponed from last April until September – almost 2 full years since the assault took place.

At the sentencing hearing, Justice Letourneau made reference to the “mob mentality” that can exist among high-end athletes, noting that he, too, had been such a hockey player when he was younger. He also acknowledged that, by pleading guilty, Macdonald had spared the survivor from having to testify.

He imposed a sentence of 88 days, which Macdonald will serve on weekends, two years’ probation and any assessment, counselling or rehabilitative programs that his probation officer may stipulate.

I am not a proponent of a law and order approach to justice; nor am I convinced that sending someone to jail offers much in the way of either rehabilitation or deterrence.

But something seems wrong to me here. A young woman was assaulted by a young man, several years her senior. He was able to plead guilty to something other than what he is alleged to have done, and to have his penalty postponed so it did not interfere with his summer plans. He will now serve that sentence on weekends, which, for those unfamiliar with this practice, means he can count a full day for each partial day he spends in the jail (in other words, he can arrive Friday evening and leave Monday morning, but count 4 days done from his sentence.)

And the woman? She says that not a day goes by that she is not affected by what happened that night:

“I often have flashbacks and relive memories of what happened, wishing I could change my mind about going out that night with my friends. Maybe if I did, then none of this would have happened.”

Surely, we can do better than this.

 

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