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Judge jails Wawa men for post-party 'gang' sex attack on teen

The sexual assault took place on a Lake Superior beach
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The Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse is pictured in this file photo. Michael Purvis/SooToday

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault that may be triggering

This story was the subject of a complaint to the National NewsMedia Council, which was upheld by the council. It has since been edited to reflect the opinion of the council. The full decision is available here

Their victim was a high school student they attacked at a party on a Lake Superior beach in the early morning hours of a day in 2017.

It was about 2 a.m. when the two young Wawa men followed the vomiting and stumbling girl, who was feeling "woozy" after consuming four drinks, into a nearby wooded area that was being used as a latrine at a beach.

They pushed the teen to the ground and simultaneously sexually assaulted her, Superior Court Justice Ian McMillan heard a few months ago.

One of the accused, Ty Roger Oliver-Morin, took her cell phone, then further sexually assaulted the teen. The other, Jesse Lee Bernier, also further sexually assaulted the teen.

The pair pleaded guilty on Aug. 22 to gang sexual assault and invitation to sexual touching.

Last week, McMillan sentenced Bernier, 23, and Oliver-Morin, 22, to two years less a day in a provincial facility for the first offence and a 16-month concurrent term for the second.

He also placed the men on probation for two years with conditions to protect the girl.

As well, the judge imposed a 10-year order prohibiting the two men from being within two kilometres of the victim's residence.

Oliver-Morin and Bernier must register as sex offenders for life, provide DNA samples for the national database, and are banned from possessing weapons for 10 years.

A publication ban prohibits reporting any information that could identify the victim.

Citing a need for denunciation and deterrence, McMillan noted there is nothing the court can do to ameliorate the harm and distress the "abhorrent, cowardly and irreversible criminal acts of sexual abuse" the two men inflicted on the girl.

It is an experience, he said in his 13-page written decision, the teen is "not likely to ever completely purge from her memory."

In an agreed statement of facts, provided to the court In August, prosecutor Dana Peterson indicated the victim had passed out and didn't completely recall the entire attack.

But she did remember some specific details of the prolonged attack that went on "for a very long time."

The court heard two witnesses, who went into the area about 4 a.m. to urinate, spotted Oliver-Morin stumbling out of the bushes.

Bernier remained there, trying to kiss the girl, and perform oral sex on her, but she pushed him away. He then stood her up, and walked her out of the wooded area about 5 a.m.

"Extremely distraught and crying," the victim told her friends what had happened and pointed to the two men as her assailants.

Oliver-Morin had "passed out" by the campfire, and the girl retrieved her cell phone from his pocket.

When her friends confronted him about "raping her," he appeared confused and responded "What?"

The court was told Bernier approached two males, who were leaving the area between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., and offered to pay them to say he wasn't involved.

He insisted he "didn't do it" and "she's exaggerating."

Bernier turned himself into police the following day.

Oliver-Morin gave police a statement, denying he knew the victim, stating he was "blackout drunk" and didn't know what he had done that night.

A DNA report from the Centre of Forensic Sciences, which analyzed samples taken from the victim's clothing, implicated both men.

The Crown had urged the judge to impose a three-year federal penitentiary term, arguing the two offences each carry a maximum sentence of 14 years because the complainant was under the age of 16.

Defence lawyers Bruce Willson, representing Bernier, and Mark Palombi, counsel for Oliver-Morin, called for a jail sentence that their clients would serve in an Ontario institution.

McMillan, referring to the teen's victim impact statement, indicated her "greatest fear is for her personal safety" and "encountering the two offenders."

The girl told the court that her "traumatic encounter" with the pair left her with physical injuries, constant fears, and nightmares.

"She can't even be a teenager any more," her mother said, describing the family as being "on an emotional roller coaster."

Pre-sentence reports, prepared about the two offenders, recommended the most appropriate options for treatment could be the Ontario Correctional Institute (OCI) in Brampton, which specializes in addictions and sexual behaviour.

When McMillan imposed sentence, he pointed to a number of aggravating factors, including the victim's age and vulnerable state due to intoxication.

Two older assailants "forcefully subdued her in tandem," he said.

He listed a number of mitigating factors - both men are first offenders, they expressed remorse and empathy for the victim, and indicated a desire to be rehabilitated.

The judge called the pair's guilty pleas, which spared the victim the "trauma of a trial," the "most mitigating circumstance in favour of reduction of sentence." 

"It appears to me that each of these offenders was and perhaps continues to be in denial or disbelief that they could have consciously acted in such a callous manner and that this conduct is attributable to substance/alcohol abuse," McMillan said.

He noted the writer of the men's pre-sentence report had alluded to their failure to accept responsibility for their actions.

McMillan said for that reason he believes that's why the writer was suggesting treatment at OCI. 

Both men told the court they want to be rehabilitated, the judge said, describing their requests as genuine.

Considering their age, family support, absence of a previous criminal record and work ethic, "I believe their prospects for rehabilitation are promising," he said.

"In my view, a penitentiary term of imprisonment carries implications that are ill-advised in this case and which would effectively remove the availability of a period of probation which I do consider to be warranted in the case of both offenders.

He strongly recommended that Bernier and Oliver-Morin undergo treatment at the Ontario Correctional Institute while in custody.

EDITOR'S NOTE: SooToday does not permit comments on court stories

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About the Author: Linda Richardson

Linda Richardson is a freelance journalist who has been covering Sault Ste. Marie's courts and other local news for more than 45 years.
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