Whitehorse Daily Star

Judge weighs officer’s fate in sexual assault case

A former Whitehorse RCMP officer is facing either a conditional discharge or a suspended sentence for a sexual assault conviction related to his on-duty conduct.

By Emily Blake on January 30, 2018

A former Whitehorse RCMP officer is facing either a conditional discharge or a suspended sentence for a sexual assault conviction related to his on-duty conduct.

Const. Stephen Knaack pled guilty to one count of sexual assault on Nov. 10, 2017 for touching a female RCMP employee without her consent in early January 2017.

The woman’s identity is protected by the court under a publication ban.

In Yukon territorial court this morning, Judge Richard Schneider, who appeared via video from Ontario, heard submissions on sentencing in the matter.

Defence lawyer Brendan Miller requested a conditional discharge, arguing the offence was on the lower end of the spectrum for sexual assault.

He also noted that Knaack has no previous criminal history.

But Crown prosecutor Benjamin Flight, who appeared by phone from Nunavut, argued a conditional discharge would not be in the public interest.

He noted the offence had occurred in the workplace, and that RCMP officers hold a special position of power and authority.

He said a suspended sentence would be more appropriate in this case.

Both sentences require a period of probation with conditions, but a suspended sentence would mean the sexual assault charge would go on Knaack’s criminal record.

Judge Schneider has reserved decision on sentencing, saying it is a “nuanced decision that has to be made.”

He added that “it is close to the line,” and he will have to “decide on which side it lands.”

According to the agreed statement of facts, the charge stems from an incident on Jan. 4, 2017.

Knaack and the woman had been engaging in casual conversation and catching up after the holidays when Knaack walked around the woman’s desk to give her a hug.

When she stood up, Knaack told the woman she was standing so that he “could grab her ass.”

He then proceeded to hug her while grabbing her buttocks with his left hand.

Knaack had been on duty in full uniform at the time, and the woman had not consented to the sexual touching.

The next day, she filed a harassment complaint to the RCMP line officer. Both a criminal investigation and internal RCMP process were initiated.

On Jan. 6, Knaack sent an unsolicited email to then-Insp. Archie Thompson admitting to the incident.

He wrote that it was “disreputable conduct for a member and a supervisor,” adding, “There is no tolerance of this in the workplace. There is no excuse for a man to force himself on a woman.”

A victim impact statement written by the woman was read aloud in court this morning.

She wrote “there are not enough words or time” to describe the ways in which the incident has affected her life.

This includes changing her relationships with co-workers and making her feel unsafe in the workplace.

She said she now feels awkward, anxious, distrustful and tense in workplace interactions.

The woman also said she was once followed from work to a private residence where she didn’t feel safe leaving her car.

As well, she has had her integrity questioned, and been told she shouldn’t have reported the incident, she added.

The woman also noted she has been affected by public opinion on the case.

Finally, she said while Knaack was suspended with full pay and has access to limitless resources, she has had to use earned leave time to take time off work.

She has also had to pay $1,725 out of pocket for counselling, leaving her with $680 in costs not covered by benefits.

“I will forever be impacted by this offence,” she concluded.

Flight argued the effect the incident has had on the woman is one of several aggravating factors in the case that call for a suspended sentence.

He also pointed to the need to deter and denounce this type of behaviour. Police officers, he noted, have a higher moral responsibility and knowledge of the consequences for criminal acts.

Additionally, Flight said, while a pre-sentence report was largely positive he was concerned that Knaack had expressed that the matter should have been dealt with internally only, and not used as a “political apparatus”.

“He’s taken the position that he’s exempt from the application of the law,” Flight said.

Miller, meanwhile, said Knaack was “extraordinarily remorseful,” and noted that he admitted to his conduct the day after it was reported without prompting.

He argued his client has already been treated more harshly as an RCMP officer having “suffered through” the internal disciplinary process and the court of public opinion.

As a result of that internal process, on Aug. 24, 2017, Knaack was demoted to a constable.

He was also made ineligible for a promotion for three years and was immediately transferred to a detachment outside of the Yukon.

According to court documents, his financial loss as a result of these sanctions will total at least $32,569.80 before taxes.

Miller also claimed the impact on the victim has less to do with Knaack’s actions than the ramifications afterwards, placing blame on the media attention the case has received.

Finally, Miller argued that giving Knaack a criminal record would be “painting him with a broad brush” and treating him no different than the “most vile” of rapists.

He called Knaack’s actions an “impulse act” and a “stupid joke,” arguing a “fully informed member of the public” would not take issue with a conditional discharge.

But Flight countered there is a difference between Knaack’s case and one of rape.

While a charge of sexual assault can encompass a wide range of offences, he said, in cases of rape, the Crown would have proceeded by indictment rather than summarily.

There are also more serious charges for sexual assault with a weapon, causing bodily harm or threats to a third party and aggravated sexual assault in the Criminal Code of Canada.

Judge Schneider’s written decision on sentencing in the case is expected in two weeks’ time.

Yukon judges were excluded from presiding over the case due to potential conflicts.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada also appointed an independent Crown counsel to avoid any potential conflicts of interest, as Yukon Crown prosecutors work closely with the local RCMP.

Comments (8)

Up 0 Down 0

Groucho d'North on Feb 3, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Head shake, that Watson Lake situation got many coats of whitewash on it and the truth was well hidden away. Some hospital staff there know the real story, but it will never come out as it is so much easier to demonise the RCMP than to reveal the desperation of a new hire wanting to escape "This shitty little town"

Up 4 Down 0

Head shake--please be fair in sentencing, as his life is already ruined on Feb 1, 2018 at 5:29 pm

I will reiterate my comments from a prior post; Mr. Knaack has his life and career totally ruined....meanwhile, years back in Watson Lake two officers had a joint sexual intercourse together with a nurse there, and she said it wasn't consensual and that it was rape, and much of the testimony pointed to her being very intoxicated when this went down. They faced NO REPERCUSSIONS, even though one of the officers was married and had a pregnant wife at home while he did (so if we're looking at optics of police officers being held to a higher standard, explain that one to me--what a sleazy scummy cur!!).
Meanwhile, Stephen is a family man, a volunteer and upstanding citizen in the community and he gets put through the ringer. What he did was wrong, but in terms of magnitude, the way they are treating it is HORRIBLY WRONG. Do not give him a sexual assault conviction and meanwhile the cops from Watson Lake just walked away with NOTHING on their records. The one who got sent back northeast to the far throws of Canada--I warned people they better watch out if they are pulled over by him.
Please stop treating Stephen like he's the guys from Watson--he is not and his offence is nowhere in the same category as what those monsters did to that nurse there. And as for the nurse...how come nobody cared about her side of the story, and yet in this case, a comment and bum touch is treated worst than a charge of raping a woman (not convicted for those two, of course)? I am a woman and I know Stephen and I can only say he was never ever unprofessional when I knew him, or his family and nor do I think this case has all of the facts disclosed. As for the woman feeling so rotten about how it's going down, you should. You have no idea what it's like to really be treated like sh*t at work, like some of us tolerate daily. Again, not saying he was right, but neither is this severe big blowup regarding what should be a sexual harassment case, not a criminal record for sexual assault, which is going way too far.

Up 1 Down 6

Lamien Dangkow on Feb 1, 2018 at 4:17 pm

Greenie let me ask you a question: what high hill do you live on to say what is big or what is small to a woman you don't know? Pretty judgy there Greenie, prettay prettay prettay judgy

Up 2 Down 5

martin on Jan 31, 2018 at 10:16 am

When someone like Damien start with "I can't stand cops" it makes me laugh just by reading what they write after. We don't know who the female is and what kind of repercussion it had in her "machoman" work environment

Up 8 Down 0

justagirlwithanopinion on Jan 31, 2018 at 6:53 am

if an ass grab effects her life so negatively she must of had issues before hand. Good thing she never worked in a bar!!!

Up 8 Down 0

My Opinion on Jan 31, 2018 at 12:39 am

In an earlier article they mentioned what she had said in that interaction and she was far, far from without fault. Funny they didn't print that again here. Go back and read it.

Up 11 Down 0

ProScience Greenie on Jan 30, 2018 at 3:32 pm

One would think some time off without pay, a harsh dressing down in front of all staff and demanding a sincere public apology would do the job and teach a lesson to all for that this rude but minor (in the big picture) incident will not be repeated.

Who knows where this is all going but be prepared for a lot of collateral damage which will include time and resources being wasted on snowflake incidents that should be going to dealing with and ending the very real and harmful abuses that are sadly still going on out there.

Up 8 Down 1

Damien Langkow on Jan 30, 2018 at 3:18 pm

I can't stand cops but really? Someone grabs your ass and you'll be forever impacted? Wow. Get out and see the real pain other people have to go through. There's a lot worse things than this. Everyone is a victim these days.

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