I went to the Ottawa courthouse this morning for the Jessica Beraldin sentencing. All I can say is that I felt like I came out of the twilight zone, or La La Land. It was without a doubt the strangest sentencing I have ever witnessed.
First, a few specifics regarding the charges and the sentencing:
- The victim was a male student at Mother Theresa High School in Barrhaven Ontario. He was 16-years-old when the abuse started;
- The abuse allegations date back to 2014;
- There was reference made to three incidents of kissing, and two incidents in which the victim was allowed to or did touch Fiori’s breasts;
- The charges of sexual exploitation and making sexually explicit material available to a child are gone. The guilty plea applied to the sexual assault charge;
- We have no idea what was entailed in the charge of sexual exploitation; ditto the charge of making sexually explicit material available to a child;
- The abuse allegedly transpired when Fiori was going through a very difficult time in her life. It seems as though the very difficult time included a divorce;
- Beraldin no longer goes by her former married name. As I noted on Monday, her maiden name is Fiori. I shall refer to her from her on in as Jessica Fiori;
- Jessica Fiori apparently pled guilty back in June of 2017. Bear in mind that that was 14 moths after she was charged, and eight months before the general public had any idea that there was a guilty plea;
- Jessica Fiori has been sentenced to 6 months conditional sentence (that means no jail time) and 18 months probation. Conditions of probation include the stipulation that Fiori is not to engage in any paid or volunteer activities which would place her in a position of authority or trust of any any males under the age of 18;
- Fiori is not to have any direct or indirect contact with the victim;
- Jessica Fioris’s name will be on the sex offender registry for 10 years. (It was agreed that she would be listed as Jessica Fiori A.K.A. Beraldin);
- Fiori had to submit a DNA sample before leaving the courthouse;
- There is, as is the norm in sex abuse cases, a publication ban on the name of the victim. The victim and his mother are said to be very concerned that they will be identified;
- Two items of evidence have been sealed
- There were three teenage boys from Mother Theresa High School and eight members of Fiori’s family and in the courtroom. All in all there were abut 13 people in the courtroom plus myself, my husband and about three reporters;
- Fiori, in red jacket and black slacks, sat beside her lawyer. She offered a tearful apology;
- The judge was Madam Justice Perkins-McVey (appointed to bench 2009).
- Assistant Crown is Mark Holmes. People would perhaps be familiar with his work on the Mike Duffy case;
- Defence is John Norris, a Toronto based lawyer who is also an adjunct member of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. He was called to the bar in 1993 and practised criminal law with Clayton Ruby and Marlys Edwardh. Some may recall his name as one of the lawyers who worked on behalf of Omar Khadr;
Now on to a few observations – I will just put them out here and let you sort them out.
When I say I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone or La La Land I mean it. Honest to goodness it seemed to me that the judge, defence and Crown were tripping over and/or trying to outdo each other in extolling the goodness and virtues of Jessica. It was the strangest thing I have ever witnessed in a court room. I am talking here about hearts and flowers for a self-confessed sex offender whose actions have dictated that her name is being added to the sex offender registry !
What the heck is going on?
And so we had accolades that Jessica “took responsibility” entered a guilty plea and spared her victim the pain of a trial. (That is very much the norm for these plea deals. In this instance the fact that it took 14 months for Jessica Fiori to enter the guilty plea and a further eight months to finally get to sentencing seems to be just, well, somehow totally irrelevant .)
All seemed concerned with Jessica’s emotional state at the time she seduced/assaulted/ molested that boy. It seemed to me that the fact that she was going through a divorce and stressful time her life was deemed a rationale for her actions.
There seemed to be great admiration for the fact that she turned to her family.
At one point the assistant Crown wanted to be sure it was understood that he “didn’t mean to speak ill “ of Ms. Beraldin, and he felt it necessary to point out that he wasn’t trying to run her down.
Defence went on about the merits of the guilty plea which, he said, ensured that the victim would be spared testifying, and he added to that that he considered that the victim would have been a very reluctant witness, and that the offense it was an isolated incident and that her guilty plea mean the end of her teaching career.
Then there was the concern from one and all that a report written by a Dr. Gray be seen by anyone. There are, the court heard, some very private and personal things in there. Actually, it was the judge who raised the issue.
No matter, once the issue was raised a decision was made to seal the report because, said the judge, the victim and his mother are very concerned that they will be identified. This I fail to understand as grounds to seal a document and thereby prevent public access to that information. The name of the victim is available. There are always publication bans on the names of victims. It’s automatic. Despite those publication bans it is routine to file reports and other documents at trial without a seal. In fact, it is understood that there is a publication ban on the name of the victims and that ban is not to be violated. To say therefore that the ban is to protect the identity of the victim and his mother makes no sense at all. None. If,on the other hand, it is to ensure that private and personal details do not get into the public domain, that’s another matter. Our courts are supposed to open, are they not?
There was an exchange in which the Crown was actually pondering what would be the scenario if the offender were male and victim female, and the judge interjected that that is not the case.
Back to Dr. Gray. The doctor apparently said that Jessica is a very low risk to re-offend. And apparently he said that the close relationship Fiori had with the victim should not be seen as grooming. He also allegedly made comment that that there were certain critical stressor in Jessica’s life at the time, and she was feeling distant from her partner. Honestly, the impression conveyed – at least to me – is that this is all perfectly understandable conduct for a female teacher in her late 20s who is undergoing a divorce or is in a stressful situation: in other words, it’s just fine in those trying circumstances for a female teacher to seduce a young male student. I don’t understand why there was not at least a little concern that Jessica – as a teacher – did not know better. Nor do I understand why no one thought it untoward that Jessica did not see fit to find a man for companionship and/or sex. Would it, I wonder, have made a difference if Fiore was a male and the victim female? I don’t know.
Yes, true enough there was actually acknowledgment that the offence is illegal, ….but then that led to some talk about how on the spectrum of things it is usually something that evolves to intercourse, and that didn’t happen. (My thoughts on that are that there was no actual agreed upon statement of facts so we the public truly have no idea exactly when and how the interaction between this boy and Fiore came to an end, and therefore no idea if it would have eventually led to intercourse. )
We did hear that at the time this was happening the victim was presumably a voluntary participant, but also that Fiore seemed to be ” the lead.” And we also heard that the victim now looks back at this as a dreadful period in his life.
Then there was a tearful apology. The judge actually gently suggested that Fiori speak to her family seated in the courtroom and address the harm she had done to them.
Jessica Fiori said she was deeply sorry “for the terrible choices I made in a time of crisis.” She said she was very disappointed in herself, that she never intentionally meant to harm anyone, and that she accepts responsibility for her “mistakes.”
In return, the judge talked about spending sleepless nights thinking of this case. She was thankful for the joint submission of the Crown and defence. She talked of “a jail sentence served in the community.” (I think that’s perhaps tough talk for a conditional sentence?) And, she commended Fiori for entering a guilty plea and taking responsibility.
At the end of the day the message this morning was that Jessica Fiore is quite a girl/lady/woman. She entered that guilty plea. She spared the victim. She turned to her family. She is truly sorry. It was a mistake. She is a very low risk to re-offend.
And, of yes, great , what’s the word – admiration? – for the fact that in entering her guilty plea Fiori “guarantees the end of a career that she loved.” I personally am more inclined to say, and I repeat, that in seducing that young lad Jessica Fiori ended the career that she loved.
A strange morning.
The victim was not in court. Please keep him and his family in your prayers.
Enough for now,