A former Whitehorse RCMP officer has been given a conditional discharge for a sexual assault charge related to his on-duty conduct.
Const. Stephen Knaack pled guilty in November 2017 to one count of sexual assault for touching the buttocks of a female RCMP civilian employee without her consent.
Her name is protected by the court under a statutory publication ban.
On Tuesday, Judge Richard Schneider discharged Knaack, subject to a one-year probation order with conditions, for the charge.
During sentencing arguments in Yukon territorial court on Jan. 30, defence lawyer Brendan Miller had advocated for the conditional discharge.
He said the offence was on the lower end of the spectrum for a sexual assault charge, and that a discharge would be adequate.
Crown prosecutor Benjamin Flight, however, had argued a conditional discharge would be contrary to the public interest.
He noted RCMP officers hold a special power of position and authority, and said a suspended sentence would be more appropriate.
Both sentences require a period of probation with conditions, but a suspended sentence would mean the charge would go on Knaack’s criminal record.
In his written decision, Judge Schneider noted a number of aggravating and mitigating factors in the case along with details from a victim impact statement and Knaack’s pre-sentence report.
Schneider found aggravating factors included that the offence took place in the workplace while Knaack was on duty.
At the time, Knaack was a senior RCMP officer and supervisor who had been employed with the force for more than 17 years.
Mitigating factors, Schneider wrote, included that Knaack had entered a guilty plea at an early stage of the proceedings. The judge also noted Knaack had “expressed remorse consistently and unequivocally to the complainant and to his employer.”
According to court documents, the day after the complaint was filed against him, Knaack sent an unprompted email to then-Insp. Archie Thompson admitting to the incident.
He wrote it was “disreputable conduct for a member and a supervisor,” and “there is no tolerance of this in the workplace. There is no excuse for a man to force himself on a woman.”
Additionally, Judge Schneider considered that Knaack is a mature first-time offender who is capable of reform.
He also noted that Knaack has experienced a “complexity of negative consequences” from his actions.
On Aug. 24, 2017, Knaack received sanctions from an internal RCMP disciplinary process.
Those included requirements that he write an apology to the victim to be placed on his file and immediate transfer outside of the Yukon.
He was also required to forfeit 160 hours of pay at $8,023.08. He was demoted from the rank of corporal to constable, resulting in an annual salary decrease of $8,182, and he is ineligible for a promotion for three years.
Schneider also acknowledged a victim impact statement from the woman which stated she “will forever be impacted by this offence.”
She noted the incident has significantly affected her relationships with co-workers, family and friends. And she said she has had to take considerable time off work and pay for counselling out of her own pocket.
As well, Judge Scheider referenced Knaack’s pre-sentencing report, which he said was “very positive” with the author concluding he is a good candidate for community supervision.
A number of letters were also written in support of Knaack which stated the incident was “atypical and out-of-character” for him.
Judge Schneider concluded that while it was apparent that Knaack’s behaviour impacted the victim, the sentence must be “proportionate to the gravity of the offence and degree of responsibility of the offender.”
He said this means the court must impose “the least onerous and least restrictive” sentence that also meets the principles of denunciation, deterrence and rehabilitation.
“Mr. Knaack is remorseful and takes full responsibility for any harm that he has caused the complainant; though he maintains that no harm was intended. He takes full responsibility,” Judge Schneider wrote.