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Former Canadian navy officer fined $7K for assault, sexual assault aboard navy sailboat

Crewmembers aboard HMCS Oriole secure a sail prior to stopping in Toronto during the ship’s 2018 Great Lakes deployment on June 22, 2018. (Royal Canadian Navy) Crewmembers aboard HMCS Oriole secure a sail prior to stopping in Toronto during the ship’s 2018 Great Lakes deployment on June 22, 2018. (Royal Canadian Navy)
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A retired Canadian navy member has been reprimanded and ordered to pay a fine of $7,000 after repeatedly assaulting and sexually assaulting a young female cadet aboard a navy sailboat in the summer of 2006.

Retired petty officer first class James R. Levesque, 59, was found guilty last May of assault, sexual assault and uttering threats while on a summer sailing of HMCS Oriole, a century-old tall ship the navy uses for training and public outreach excursions.

The victim, who cannot be identified under a court-imposed publication ban, testified at trial that Levesque, then a senior non-commissioned officer, repeatedly groped and physically assaulted her, leaving bruises on her arms, during the ship's journey from southern Vancouver Island to Alaska.

The victim, who was 20 years old and a military college student at the time of the offences, testified that Levesque also threatened to have sex with her and leave further bruising on her body, despite her protests.

The ordeal left the victim with a fear of sailing and significantly altered her career in the navy, she said.

Levesque denied the charges at trial, pleading not guilty to all three offences.

In her sentencing decision Thursday, military judge Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf said the power imbalance between the victim and Levesque – who was then one of HMCS Oriole's seniormost non-commissioned officers – was one of several aggravating factors she considered in the case.

The judge also told the court that the repetitive and forceful nature of the attacks and their longstanding effects on the victim merited special consideration and denunciation.

However, the judge noted that Levesque, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces from 1983 until his retirement in 2017, has no prior criminal record and is considered a low risk to reoffend.

Levesque will not be required to register as a sex offender, per the judge's decision.

The military prosecutor had asked the court for a minimum sentence of six months imprisonment, while the defence argued the circumstances warranted a reprimand and a fine in the amount of $4,000 to $6,000.

The victim testified at trial that the physical and sexual attacks made her feel "scared and really worthless," and told the court that another senior officer had discouraged her from reporting the incidents to police that summer.

The military court was shown more than 100 photos taken aboard the Oriole in July 2006, many of them depicting an atmosphere of alcohol-fuelled revelry among the ship's predominantly male, 24-person crew.

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