A Gatineau man who pleaded guilty to three domestic violence charges against his former wife has been given a conditional discharge and won't have a criminal record. That decision has surprised and disappointed some who advocate for survivors of domestic violence.
Judge Serge Laurin granted a conditional discharge to Joshua Schoo on July 27 in the Criminal and Penal Division of the Court of Quebec.
Schoo had admitted to having been violent during a dispute in March 2021 with his then-wife of 17 years, the mother of their four children. He pleaded guilty to three charges related to the domestic violence, including strangling and threatening her.
Their children were witness to the assault, according to the decision, with one of them calling police to say Schoo was hitting their mother and was intoxicated.
In her victim impact statement, the woman told the court that she has recurrent flashbacks and distressing dreams of the event, and worries about her children.
"I fear for my children's emotional security the most. After witnessing those traumatic things, I question how the outcome will affect their own choices, relationships and responses," her statement to court said.
"Our children look to us as parents for safety and love and security and he failed them."
The judge acknowledged that assault on a partner and the presence of their children were aggravating factors, but he also said there were mitigating circumstances in his sentencing decision.
He noted that there were no previous incidents of domestic violence during their marriage, no physical violence during previous confrontations and called the matter before the court an "isolated event" during a 17-year marriage.
Justice Laurin noted Schoo has begun therapy, stopped consuming alcohol and has sincerely expressed remorse.
The judge explained his decision not to impose the six-month jail sentence the Crown had asked because imprisonment could result in Schoo losing his maintenance job with the City of Ottawa.
The city said it does not comment on individual personnel matters.
The judge's decision also said that a criminal record would prevent Schoo from visiting his sister in the United States, where he liked to travel with his children, and could prevent him from volunteering at his church.
Sensitivity training for judges needed, advocate says
Lise Martin, executive director of Women's Shelters Canada, said the judge's decision shows the urgent need for training not only newly appointed judges, but also sitting judges.
"It's sensitivity training, it's training about the issues of violence against women, it's training about having a better understanding of power and control. These are the factors behind violence against women," Martin said.
"It's not just a random act."
Martin calls the decision a "slap in the face" that fails to address domestic violence as a social issue and not just a personal issue contained within a family.
Marie-Christine Villeneuve, a spokesperson for Quebec's Network of Crime Victims' Assistance Centres (Centre d'aide aux victimes d'actes criminels), also expressed surprise at the sentence.
"It seems to go against what we're seeing a lot more these past few years where we tend to have decisions that emphasize denunciation and deterrence, particularly in the matter of domestic violence," Villeneuve said.
"We hope that this sentence does not discourage the victims from coming forward."
The judge imposed a two-year supervised probation and a one-year unsupervised probation where Schoo cannot contact or approach his former partner. He will have to continue undergoing therapy, complete 250 hours of community service, donate $5,000 to a community organization focused on counselling for men.
Schoo's lawyer declined to comment.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Crown declined to provide an interview, saying they are considering an appeal. They announced later in the day on social media a notice of appeal had been filed and they'd informed the woman.