Editor’s note: story contains graphic evidence that may be offensive to some readers
Lawyers in the case of a Vernon physiotherapist who pleaded guilty in provincial court Monday to nine counts of sexual assault have more homework to do before a judge pronounces a sentence for Stephen Witvoet, 47.
Judge Jeremy Guild declined a joint submission from Crown lawyer Juan O’Quinn and Witvoet’s lawyer, Glenn Verdurmen, that would have Witvoet given an 18-month conditional sentence, the maximum sentence allowed under summary convictions, which is what O’Quinn proceeded on. Witvoet would also be given two years probation, ordered to continue to seek counselling and would have been placed on the sex offender registry for 10 years.
Guild, however, wasn’t sure the range was acceptable.
“This is far from a typical case and there may be comparative cases that may be close enough to say, yes, it’s the appropriate range, yes, it’s quite different yet it’s still a valuable comparison,” Guild said.
O’Quinn and Verdurmen both told the court they worked many, many hours coming up with a resolution and submitted only one case history.
“I don’t know if this is as simple as some of the issues I’ve come across in the court,” Verdurmen said. “The Court of Appeal more or less delineated a range. I think this is a case where the judge goes with the facts.”
“It’s an unusual case and I don’t expect anything to match it,” Guild said. “But there will be cases on the court that deal with it, whether it’s the Court of Appeal, provincial court, here is a sentence imposed for multiple offences of sexual touching.”
The two lawyers are to return to court Wednesday to fix a date for the sentencing hearing to continue.
Court heard Witvoet plead guilty to nine counts of sexual assault Monday, though 16 women came forward as victims of a man who ran his own clinic and who taught at a local massage college.
The offences happened between 2009 and 2016. All victims were over the age of 18.
O’Quinn described how, in each of the nine cases he pleaded guilty, Witvoet either put his hand inside a woman’s bra or panties and touched their breast or breasts, or their vaginal area. In all cases, Witvoet never had permission from the women to touch the areas, nor did he ask for permission.
Witvoet, who was dressed in a long-sleeve, button-up grey shirt with a white T-shirt underneath and black jeans, was alerted to a complaint against him in January 2017 and stopped working on women unless a chaperone was present. He hasn’t practised physiotherapy since this past summer, and has been working construction “to make ends meet.”
He separated from his wife and two kids. Witvoet was supported in court Monday by a couple of friends, both men.
O’Quinn said the offences were on the “lower end of the scale,” and said mitigating factors such as no prior criminal record for Witvoet, the fact he entered guilty pleas and spared the victims and their families having to “relive the nightmares” by going to trial played a role in the joint submission.
Verdurmen said his client was deeply remorseful for his actions.
“He takes full responsibility for the offences,” Verdurmen said. “There is no question he abused their trust. He is immensely sorry.”
Witvoet had been prepared to read a letter of apology to the court when the session ended.