THUNDER BAY - A Thunder Bay man convicted of a violent sexual assault in 2016 on the city’s north side has been sentenced to seven years.
James Joseph O’Kane appeared before Justice Bruce Fitzpatrick early last week for a sentencing hearing on charges of sexual assault causing bodily harm, uttering death threats, and unlawful confinement.
On the fourth charge of breaching bail conditions, O’Kane was given 45 days of enhanced pre-sentence credit and it was not taken into account in the penalty handed down by Justice Fitzpatrick.
O’Kane was credited with 408 days of pre-sentenced custody off the seven year sentence calculated at a rate of four to one based on 1,635 days spent under house arrest after being released on bail.
When delivering his sentence, Justice Fitzpatrick called O’Kane’s actions a ‘horrific act,’ which should be reflected in the sentence.
“The event at issue here was in the nature of the most serious type of breach of the social contract,” Justice Fitzpatrick said. “A random sexual attack on a stranger in a public place is something that requires a serious response in the form of a significant period of incarceration.”
The attack occurred shortly after 3 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 23, 2016, when the female complainant was walking down a well-traveled street on the city’s north side.
Video surveillance in the area showed the complainant walking and followed closely by a man. She was then grabbed from behind by O’Kane and taken to a dark area between two buildings.
O’Kane threatened to kill the complainant, saying he had a knife, and sexually assaulted her.
In an effort to reason with him, the complainant asked his name, to which he replied ‘James’ and she continued to use his name, saying he did not have to do this but he continued to choke her harder.
The complainant was able to break free at approximately 4:40 a.m. and ran back to the road. She was then taken by paramedics to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre for treatment.
O’Kane became a person of interest to police after video surveillance from a nearby convenience store showed him wearing a wristband from a nightclub in the same area the woman had been earlier that night.
Following surveillance of O’Kane by Thunder Bay Police Service officers, his DNA was obtained by a discarded coffee cup, which matched the DNA found on the complainant’s body.
In court, O’Kane admitted these facts were true and he was found guilty on all charges. The charge of choking to enable a sexual assault was withdrawn by the Crown.
Prior to sentencing, Crown attorney Rob Kozak sought a penitentiary sentence of between eight to 10 years to highlight denunciation and deterrence given the ‘degree of violence and shocking nature of the event at issue.’
Defense counsel for O’Kane, Mark Hargadon, conceded to the gravity of the offence, but sought a four-year sentence saying O’Kane demonstrated remorse for his actions, was a ‘youthful’ offender, and substance abuse issues contributed to his actions that night.
Justice Fitzpatrick cited several mitigating factors in his decision, including O’Kane’s expression of remorse and the circumstances of his upbringing and the challenges he faced as outlined in a Gladue report.
Aggravating factors taken under consideration by Justice Fitzpatrick included O’Kane’s record for violence and the heightened level of fear in the community following the attack.
“I am persuaded that a sentence that comes closer to the position the Crown put before this court represents the most just, fit and appropriate sentence for Mr. O’Kane,” Justice Fitzpatrick said.
“I do not accept that Mr. O’Kane was a ‘youthful’ offender at the time this occurred. He was not 18. He was 26. Many men in this society have families, have finished one or two degrees, or are working well into their careers by age 26.”
Justice Fitzpatrick added that O’Kane’s upbringing was not leading him down a ‘normal’ path at the time, but said he was well into adulthood at the age of 26.
“I recognize Mr. O’Kane had a serious drug problem at the time,” Justice Fitzpatrick said. “He has managed to get that under control. This is no small feat. He is to be congratulated for this turnaround. As noted, I accept he is genuinely remorseful for what he has done. This is an important step in his rehabilitation.”
But Justice Fitzpatrick added that violent sexual attacks by a stranger on another person in a public place require a significant degree of denunciation through a lengthy penitentiary sentence and sentenced O’Kane to seven years.
“This sentence is at the lower end of a range of what is appropriate given the facts. Nevertheless, it is of a length that I believe demonstrates an appropriate degree of denunciation while balancing the other principles that come in to play as the result of Mr. O’Kane’s personal circumstances,” he said.
“I do see it as an appropriate length such that Mr. O’Kane can continue his treatment to control his drug addictions. He will need to also avail himself of treatment to deal with his history and difficulties with violence.”
The complete sentencing includes seven years less time served of 408 days on the count of sexual assault causing bodily harm, two years and six months on the count of uttering a death threat to be served concurrently, and five years on the count of unlawful confinement, also to be served concurrently.
O’Kane was also required to submit a DNA sample, comply with registration requirements of the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, and subject to a 10 year weapons prohibition subject to the right to possess weapons in respect of constitutionally protected right to hunt and fish.
Sentencing was initially scheduled to take place in January 2021 but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.