Former Sanikiluaq teacher Johnny Meeko will serve eight years and one month for his sexual crimes against children between 1972 and 2007.
Justice Neil Sharkey sentenced Meeko April 26, after he’d revoked bail April 13.
The judge’s sentence of 14 years and six months was adjusted for totality and time served to the shorter term. According to the Criminal Code of Canada, totality is a legal principle which says that “where consecutive sentences are imposed, the combined sentence should not be unduly long or harsh.”
Meeko was sentenced for 14 counts involving eight victims.
Sharkey’s sentencing exceeds sentencing suggestions by Crown prosecutor Priscilla Ferrazzi and defence lawyer Stephanie Boydell.
Ferrazzi suggested 18 years and seven months to be adjusted for totality and time served – leaving three years and about seven months of imprisonment in a federal penitentiary. Boydell suggested eight years and nine months, adjusted to two years less a day of imprisonment in territorial jail.
Their suggestions were not enough for Sharkey.
“In terms of the ‘gravity of the offence,’ the punishment must fit the crime that Johnny committed,” the judge said. “In this case, the gravity of the offences for which Johnny has been found guilty is high. The offences are sexual crimes involving children and the majority of these crimes carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment,” said Sharkey.
He also found Meeko’s moral culpability high.
“In committing the offences, Johnny abused his position of trust – he abused the trust of the children in his charge, as well as the trust of his community, which places great faith in the integrity of teachers,” he said, adding the crimes were predatory in nature.
“As a respected teacher and church warden, Johnny was above suspicion, and so he took advantage of this status. Year in and year out, Johnny preyed upon his young charges, oblivious or mindfully dismissive to any harm he may have been inflicting upon their fragile psyches, and confident that he would remain untouched and free from interference, as he always had been.”
In reaching his decision, Sharkey said he considered the pre-sentencing report on 63-year-old Meeko’s life, as well as his past as a residential school survivor. He also applied the Gladue Principal, as Meeko is an Inuk offender.
“And in this regard, after adding up all the consecutive sentences, I have arrived at a figure which is lower than that suggested by the Crown,” he said.
But he also had to consider the victim impact statements which “described the trauma, anger and isolation experienced by the victims.”
Victims, while no longer expressing fear of the perpetrator, expressed fear of harassment by Meeko’s family.
“Many of the victims have experienced anxiety and depression. They also now fear for the safety of their young children, nieces and nephews in school,” he said.
Sharkey also considered the needs and current conditions of the community where the crime occurred.
“I take notice of the frequency of sexual assault in Nunavut which far exceeds – indeed almost exponentially exceeds – the national average, and also the fact that the victims of Johnny’s crimes were, for the most part, little girls in Grade 3,” he said. “The sentence which Johnny Meeko receives should recognize the value society places in protecting children from sexual predators.”
Ultimately, Sharkey found several aggravating factors in considering sentencing, but no mitigating factors, and “counsel for the Crown and the defence are in agreement that I must give primary consideration to the sentencing objectives of denunciation and deterrence.”
Finally, Sharkey noted Meeko’s “refusal to accept the court’s findings of guilt does not bode well for his rehabilitation and the health of the community upon his return after he has served his time.”
“I am told Johnny’s family members supported him throughout these proceedings. I understand and respect this. However, in my view, it is also important that these same family members come to accept the reality of what has happened here, in the court, as well as in the community.”