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Lawyer apologizes at sex assault sentencing

Lawyer apologizes at sex assault sentencingLyle Howe, lawyer for former Nova Scotia legislature member Trevor Zinck, talks with reporters at provincial court in Dartmouth on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. The Crown has outlined a joint recommendation with the defence of a three-year jail term for Howe, a Halifax lawyer who was convicted of sexual assault. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX - A prominent Halifax lawyer apologized in court Wednesday as he was sentenced to three years in a federal prison for sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman who refuted his claim that she consented to a night of sex with him.

Lyle Howe stood in Nova Scotia Supreme Court and issued a brief statement before sentencing, saying he regretted his behaviour and was not proud of what he did.

"I am remorseful for my actions," he said as a few dozen supporters, including his mother and wife, looked on.

"I'm embarrassed by it. ... If my actions were different, all of this could have been avoided."

Chief Justice Joseph Kennedy accepted the three-year joint recommendation, along with orders that Howe provide a DNA sample, be placed on the national sex offender registry and not allowed to have firearms for 20 years.

Kennedy said he considered the fact that Howe was a first-time offender, but also that he used his position as a lawyer to attract the young woman and commit a serious offence.

"The use of one's professional standing to effectively seduce a teenage girl, which eventually led to a sexual assault, is an aspect of this offence that deserves condemnation," he told the hushed court.

"His actions were despicable and eventually criminal."

Several people jumped to their feet when Kennedy accepted the submission, shouting that Howe, who is black, was a victim of racial discrimination.

"This is a sad day for justice," one woman said, while another claimed it was another case of "systemic discrimination."

Howe's backers alleged throughout his trial and at a rally after his conviction in May that the evidence didn't support the jury's finding of guilt and reflected the justice system's bias against black men.

Outside court, Crown prosecutor Dan Rideout dismissed the assertion.

"It was never raised at any point that race was at all a relevant factor in this case, by (the) defence or Crown," he said.

David Sparks, a Howe supporter, said outside court that his friends and family were disappointed with the sentence and added it was another example of the judicial system exacting heavier penalties on black people.

"It's part of a pattern and is something that happens again and again in this province when it comes to black males," he said.

Sparks helped organize the rally last month to show that many believed Howe was innocent, based on his testimony at trial and his good reputation in the community.

Nova Scotia's Public Prosecution Service defended its decision to prosecute Howe, saying the Crown determined it was in the public interest to proceed with the case.

At his trial, Howe testified he had consensual sex with the woman on March 20, 2011, but the Crown argued she was impaired and did not give consent.

Howe was acquitted of administering a stupefying substance.

His defence lawyer said Wednesday he has filed a notice of appeal.

The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society suspended his licence to practise.

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