Appeal heard in North Van youth's sex assault conviction

A lawyer for a North Vancouver teen found guilty of aggravated sexual assault at a grad party in February 2016 has asked the B.C. Court of Appeal to overturn his conviction.

Lawyers appeared before a panel of three appeal court justices Dec. 5.

Eric Purtzki, defence lawyer for the youth, asked the appeal court to reconsider how the trial judge assessed the credibility of key witnesses in the trial, as well as a decision not to qualify one witness put forward by the defence as a medical expert.

The youth was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and unlawful confinement of a teenage girl when he was 16, during an unsanctioned grad party for North Shore teens at the Encore nightclub in Vancouver on Feb. 28, 2016. The teen was also found guilty of an earlier sexual assault of another girl in North Vancouver on Oct. 24, 2015.

In October 2018, Judge Paul Meyers handed the youth a three-year sentence, which sparked a firestorm of public protest after Meyers ruled only two weeks of that sentence would be served in custody.

After word spread in the community last fall, about 200 people marched and staged a protest against the judge’s decision in downtown Vancouver, near the court house.

A petition also circulated denouncing the decision and North Vancouver-Seymour MLA Jane Thornthwaite raised the issue of sexual violence in the B.C. legislature.

The victim in the nightclub incident also went public, giving interviews expressing both her anger at the sentence and her feeling of being victimized by the court system.

Crown prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence the teen to three years in custody – the maximum sentence that can be handed out to a youth convicted of a serious crime.

Following a review of the judge’s decision, however, Crown prosecutors decided not to appeal the sentence.

In court Dec. 5, Purtzki told the appeal court judges the issue of expert evidence is important because the opinion of the Crown’s expert was important in corroborating the victim’s testimony at the trial that the sex was non-consensual. Defence lawyers had wanted to qualify their own witness as a medical expert who had a different opinion.

Purtzki said the trial judge also made a mistake in refusing to consider which of two different versions of events in the earlier part of the evening at nightclub was more credible – that the youth’s conduct in public was aggressive and forceful or that the contact between them was consensual.

Purtzki also argued the judge erred in assessing the youth’s behaviour after the incident as an indication of callousness toward the girl, indicating a lack of consent.

Purtzki said the teen’s actions should more rightly have been seen as a reflection of his age and immaturity.

But Crown counsel Margaret Mereigh told the justices the key evidence in the trial involved witnesses who saw the girl after the incident and described her in a way consistent with a sexual assault. The witnesses included police and paramedics, she said.

Mereigh added the defence’s medical witness was not an expert in the same way as the Crown’s expert, because he was not an expert in treating sexual assault victims, while the Crown’s expert was one of the chief authorities on the subject.

The appeal court has reserved its decision in the case.

© Vancouver Courier

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