Seven-year Sentence Sent a Weak Message to Sexual Predators
Go ahead, tell someone, no one will believe you, once a whore, always a whore.- David Ramsay.
ON JUNE 1, 2004, Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm imposed a 7-year sentence on former judge David Ramsay for sexual assault causing bodily harm.
On June 3, 2004 the lead editorial of The Sun unreservedly and emphatically commended Judge Dohm: “Judging the judge: Justice Dohm did the right thing” “Despicable case of ex-judge Ramsay properly concluded” In its lavish praise of Judge Dohm, the editorial failed to assess whether the “severity” of the sentence was even remotely on all fours with the “egregious” circumstances of the crimes, and ignored the fact that a seven year sentence may now be the de-facto maximum for sexual assault causing bodily harm. There is no doubt that Regina v Ramsay is a benchmark precedent.
The Sun editorial closed with an expression of gratitude:“… for the sake of his victims, for the sake of the aboriginal community, and for the sake of the administration of justice, Mr. Ramsay first needs to go to jail. For a long time. Thanks to Justice Dohm, he will.”
But consider this: Ramsay’s crime spree lasted at least 10 years and all the while he was one of Her Majesty’s judges! His sentence was one half the maximum of 14 years. He will likely serve less than 4 years. That is not a long time. In the public interest The Sun ought to have questioned the rationale behind a 7-year sentence. Did Judge Dohm consider a maximum or nearmaximum sentence? If he did then why did he fall back on a tepid 7 years? Judge Dohm minced no words in describing what The Sun viewed as Ramsay’s “egregious behaviour”: “ … callousness towards those young women, his violence towards two of them, his conduct in discarding two like one might discard a pair of old shoes.”
And of Ramsay as a judge:
“It is apparent the accused used his office to solicit satisfaction of his perverted lusts and to shield him from their consequences … In our society judges are the trustees of the administration of justice. One can hardlyimagine a more infamous breach of trust. The accused’s conduct was utterly reprehensible … He sat in judgment on them for the very behavior he himself was instrumental in causing them to engage – and he had full knowledge of their circumstances … a greater tragedy is difficult to imagine.” Standing before the court was a dangerous offender, by day a presiding judge, but in the dark of night a violent serial-sexual predator. Judge Dohm spoke precisely and forcefully but the 7-year sentence he imposed did not accord with the dimension of Ramsay’s depravity. Seven years is a light sentence. The facts of the case cried out for a maximum sentence. Consider the words used by Judge Dohm in grounding his sentence outside the quagmire of the plea bargain and the sentence of 5 years requested by the Crown: … “to remain within counsel’s agreed range would in my opinion bring the administration of justice into disrepute and be contrary to the public interest. His words raise troubling questions: How does a 7-year sentence escape being tarred with the same brush of disrepute as the 5-year sentence requested by the crown? What is the demarcation between them? In logical terms there may be a distinction. But the sentence he imposed, greater by two years, adds only approximately fifteen months jail-time. When placed on the sentencing scale of 0 to 14 years there is no real difference. The sentence of 7 years is much too lenient.
Another troubling aspect of the 7-year sentence is the impact it will have on future cases of sexual assault causing bodily harm: ? It is a precedent setting case involving a worst-case scenario; ? It is a judicial road sign that flashes the words: Sentencing closed from 8 years to 14 years; ? It will be manna for judges who prefer the light side of sentencing. The Ramsay case stands as a missed opportunity to send a message to sexual predators: Beware! If you prey on teenage prostitutes you will receive a severe sentence, even the maximum! My commentary ends with the despair of one woman.
On February 14, 2003, after participating in a march along Hastings Street in memory of the missing women of Vancouver’s skid road, a grief stricken mother, Pauline Johnson said: “I can’t believe the men of this world can pay for their sexual pleasures with these young girls. I can’t believe society can condone that.”