Former Burns Lake mayor sentenced to 2 years less a day for sex crimes against youth

Former Burns Lake mayor Luke Strimbold has been sentenced to two years less a day for sex crimes against youth, some of which were committed while he was in office. The sentence allows him to serve his time in a provincial, rather than federal, institution.

Strimbold, 29, pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault and one count each of sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching.

All the victims were under 16 years of age.

The Crown had asked for four to six years in federal prison for the crimes, which took place between 2014 and 2017.

That time period overlaps with the period between 2011 and 2016 when Strimbold was mayor of the Village of Burns Lake, 230 kilometres west of Prince George.

Strimbold was originally charged with 29 sex offences over a two-year period against seven victims, who were all under 16 years. 

Strimbold will serve his sentence in a provincial institution, and will face two years of probation when he's released.

He must also register with the sex offender registry for 20 years. 

Former mayor was in a position of trust: Judge

As part of her ruling, Madam Justice Brenda Brown of B.C. Supreme Court said Strimbold was in a position of authority and trust over his victims.

Brown also said Strimbold was using drugs and alcohol at the time the offences occurred, but sought counselling before charges were laid.

Delivering her decision via video conference in Vancouver to the courtroom in Smithers, B.C., Brown said the former mayor has shown remorse and is a low-to-moderate risk to reoffend.

At a sentencing hearing in Smithers last week, Strimbold delivered a tearful apology to his victims, described them as friends and said, "I am deeply sorry to each of them and will forever be regretful."

He also apologized to the community of Burns Lake, saying, "I am sorry I let you down."

CBC

Strimbold's defence lawyer Stanley Tessmer had been seeking 18 months in a provincial jail.

He told the court his client was the victim of abuse at a young age. He said Strimbold failed to recognize that abuse, which prevented him from acknowledging the problem with his own actions when they originally occurred.

Tessmer also said Strimbold was a closeted gay man who had been bullied while growing up in Burns Lake, and that he had problems with drugs and alcohol.

Tessmer had been seeking 18 months in a provincial jail.

Tessmer said he believed Wednesday's sentence was appropriate, as it will allow Strimbold to continue receiving treatment from the psychologist he's been working with.

"You know, it's a recovery," he told CBC. "He had a rough go of it."

Tessmer said Strimbold's "heart was in the right place," and that he truly loved the community of Burns Lake and was already on the "path to wholeness and wellness."

"He will get any treatment that he needs," Tessmer said.

'The system has failed the victims': former chief

The current mayor of Burns Lake, Dolores Funk, said many in her community would be disappointed by the sentence, but also "grateful" the trial is over.

"Hopefully, now we can just put this behind us and move forward," she said.

Former Babine Lake First Nation chief Wilf Adam called the sentence "unacceptable," saying it failed Strimbold's victims and the people of Burns Lake who had placed their trust in him.

"That's it?" he asked after being told of the judge's decision.

"I just find that totally unacceptable. The system has failed the victims."

Andrew Kurjata

Adam was chief of Lake Babine when Strimbold was mayor of Burns Lake, and the pair worked closely on multiple issues, including the aftermath of the fatal 2012 Babine Forest Products mill explosion in Burns Lake.

Adam said Strimbold's actions were a "betrayal of trust, not just to me but to the people of Burns Lake, to the Lake Babine Nation, to the other First Nations in the Burns Lake area."

Today, Adam is a board member of the Northern Health Authority and the First Nation Health Council. He said he's been working to bring counselling services to anybody in the Burns Lake area who felt they needed them. He said the trial had brought up painful memories for other people in the community who had been victims of abuse.

"It triggers an event of what happened to them," he said. 

Adam said if Strimbold truly wants the community to heal, he needs to accept and understand the trauma he had caused.

"He needs to look at himself. He needs to make sure that he truly is sorry for what he has done — not to be forced in court, but to truly understand," Adam said. "He really has to heal himself."