A year-and-a-half sexual relationship with a teenage girl will put a former St. Thomas Police Service officer behind bars for 30 months.
Garry Christiansen – a 29 year veteran with the police service – showed no emotion as he sat in the prisoner’s box during sentencing Friday afternoon at the Elgin County Courthouse.
Justice George Orsini said Christiansen took advantage of a vulnerable 15-year-old girl, and added, “adult sexual predators must pay a heavy price.”
Christiansen first met the girl – whose identity is protected under a publication ban – in January of 2016 when she came to the police station to obtain a background check.
Two days later they had their first sexual encounter and the relationship continued until May 2017.
The key consideration in sentencing was whether Christiansen had intercourse with the girl prior to her 16th birthday.
At a pre-sentencing hearing last month, Crown attorney Jason Nicol alleged the pair had sexual intercourse on two occasions prior to her 16th birthday.
Defence lawyer Lucas O’Hara argued Christiansen waited until after her birthday.
Acting upon an anonymous tip, Christiansen was arrested on Oct. 5, 2017.
He was originally charged with sexual assault, sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual exploitation and assault.
In addition, the province’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, was contacted.
The Crown withdrew all of the charges this summer except that of sexual interference.
At the September hearing, Christiansen read from a letter in which he apologized to his family and friends, the police service, the citizens of St. Thomas and to the victim and her family.
“I had no moral or lawful right to get involved with you,” he said, adding “I didn’t wake up with the intention of hurting you.”
In passing down the sentence, Orsini suggested there were inconsistencies in the victim’s testimony resulting in doubt as to whether the pair engaged in sexual intercourse prior to her 16th birthday.
Drawing on the victim’s impact statement submitted last month, Orsini noted she now had significant trust issues and was feeling worthless.
She struggles with anxiety and depression while no longer trusting police.
The victim’s mother said she “blindly trusted Christiansen” and her daughter has lost her innocence.
She expressed concerns about her daughter’s ability to recover.
Orsini indicated Christiansen had sought counselling and had seen a psychologist since his arrest, but tempered that by noting he misrepresented key facts to counsellors.
Christiansen told a counsellor the sexual encounters did not begin until two weeks after they first met when, in fact, he performed oral sex on her two days after she attended the police station.
Because of that misrepresentation, Orsini stressed he cannot put any weight on the assessments provided by counsellors.
“Those opinions were based on misrepresentations.”
In meting out the 30-month prison term, Orsini admitted: “sentencing is not an exact science.”
“This sentence clearly demonstrates that every person, regardless of their position or profession in the community, will be held accountable for criminal actions.”
Additionally, Christiansen will be subject to three year’s probation upon release from prison and will be included in the National Sex Offender Registry for a period of 20 years.
He must provide a DNA sample and can have no contact with a person under the age of 16 unless under the supervision of an adult known to them.
And he is to avoid any contact with the victim.
St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge noted in a statement Friday afternoon, “This sentence clearly demonstrates that every person, regardless of their position or profession in the community, will be held accountable for criminal actions.”
Herridge continued, “We understand the negative perception this incident may have created. It is disheartening for our members, and we want to assure the community that this is not a reflection of the men and women of the St. Thomas Police Service who work so hard every day to uphold the law and keep our community safe.”
He concluded, “We hope this sentencing affords closure to the victim and an opportunity for us all to heal as a community moving forward with fairness, compassion, dignity and respect.”
As Christiansen was led handcuffed from the prisoner’s box, a young woman who had accompanied him into the courthouse blew a kiss goodbye.
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