By: Korie Marshall
Cameron Swets of Dunster was sentenced in McBride Court on Sept. 9th to a total of 3.5 years in jail.
Cameron Arthur Swets, a well-known and respected resident of Dunster for over 40 years, plead guilty on Oct. 31st, 2014 to one count of sexual interference of persons under the age of 14, and on May 10th, 2013, to one count of acts of gross indecency. The offences occurred more than 15 years ago. Swets was not held in custody while awaiting sentencing.
In his decision, Judge M Brecknell said Swets committed these offences when the complainants were as young as 6 and as old as 14. Some were victimized only once, some on a few occasions, and some on numerous occasions.
“In each case the defendant abused a person under the age of 18 years and abused a position of trust or authority in relation to them,” said Judge Brecknell.
The Crown had requested 2 years followed by three years probation with strict terms, while the defense had argued for a conditional sentence between 18-24 months followed by 2 years probation.
Judge Brecknell’s decision says that after three days of submissions in 2014, the court ordered a psychiatric and psychological report with an assessment of Swets’ risk to sexually reoffend. The report was submitted on April 22, 2015, and sentencing was reserved to a date that would permit the court to provide its reasons for sentence in McBride, near where the defendant lives, a circuit location that is not frequently attended by the court.
Four of the five victims provided victim impact statements for the sentencing, expressing feelings of anger, guilt, shame, shock, distrust and disbelief, and sharing experiences with sleep disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The fifth victim couldn’t be located to provide a victim impact statement.
The defense presented letters of support for the defendant from members of the Dunster community, describing Swets as patient, caring and loving, an excellent parent and teacher, and well respected. Judge Brecknell says the letters were written after the charges were sworn, but the authors of the letters didn’t acknowledge being aware of the charges Swets was facing, or that he’d plead guilty. He said the authors later added that they were aware of the charges, but many did not change their view of Swets, and others refused to believe the validity of the charges.
Judge Brecknell says Swets gave a very detailed written account of his personal history to the
probation officer for the pre-sentence report, but said he didn’t recall committing most of the offenses, though he accepted responsibility for them. Swets attributed his behaviour to “having lots of testosterone” and the lack of memory to working long, demanding hours on his land and then drinking and smoking marijuana. The officer expressed concern Swets was attempting to minimize his behaviour and avoid full accountability for his actions.
Brecknell noted a psychological assessment of Swets in 2000 judged he was not at risk as a perpetrator, but a risk assessment dated January 2015 says he is at moderate risk of committing further sexual offences, relative to other adult male sex offenders.
In the discussion of his decision, Brecknell said he must carefully consider the circumstances of the defendant, the offenses, the defendant’s comments to the court, letters on his behalf, the pre-sentence report and assessments, victim impact statements, applicable criminal code sections, extensive case law, and submissions of council. He said in a case like this, the primary considerations “must be to denounce and deter such conduct and protect the public by separating the offender from society.”
Brecknell said the offences occurred at various times and in various locations with a number of different victims. Though they ended approximately a decade and a half ago and there is no evidence of repeated offenses since 2000, there were two distinct periods of offending in the past.
He says there is a need to address a general deterrent, “lest other men living in isolated rural locations like the defendant come to the conclusion that sexual offending against children … is less likely to be discovered and acted upon in such environments.”
Brecknell expressed a concern from the letters of reference that the defendant “will suffer little if any stigma or shame in his community arising from these offenses.” He says the letters contain no clear confirmation that the authors “fully considered the nature of his offending when composing their letters.” He says Swets has clearly demonstrated, through statements to the probation officer, psychologists and the court, that “he does not fully understand or accept that he and he alone was responsible for his offending behaviour.”
Brecknell noted Swets has no criminal record and has been fully compliant with the terms of his recognizance since his arrest and release, and presents little risk for violent behaviour, but the seriousness of the psychological damage to the five victims may never be known.
Brecknell said he is unable to accept even the crown’s submission of 2 years in prison. “In my view such a sentence does not adequately address the necessary specific primary considerations of denunciations and deterrents, the serious breach of trust visited by the defendant upon the complainants or the current need for public protection.”
Swets is to serve consecutive sentences in a federal penitentiary of 25 months for gross indecency and 17 months for sexual interference of persons under the age of 14, for a total of 42 months. He’s also prohibited from attending a public park or swimming area where people under the age of 16 can reasonably be expected to be present, or a daycare centre, school ground, playground, community centre, and from seeking or obtaining employment or volunteering in a position of trust or authority for youth, for seven years. Swets can apply to vary this condition after 3 years. He’s also required to be listed on the Sex Offender Information Registration Act for 20 years, is to provide a DNA sample by Oct. 31st, 2015, and is prohibited from using firearms for 10 years.
There were about a dozen people in the court room for Swets sentencing. “Goodbye everyone,” he said, sounding somewhat cheerful, as he was led out of the court room in handcuffs by the sheriff.
Outside the courtroom, one resident said “It’s good the guilty party got more than just a slap on the wrist this time.”