N.S. youth pastor gets 27 months in prison for sexual interference

·2 min read

A former youth pastor at a Halifax-area Baptist church has been sentenced to 27 months in prison for sexual interference involving a 17-year-old girl.

At his trial, the court heard that Michael Oliver Fisher began grooming the girl when she was just 14 and by the time she was 17, contact between the two involved kissing, massages, nudity and eventually sexual assault.

The victim, who is now an adult, testified it was her first sexual experience and she had assumed that the first man she kissed would be the man she would eventually marry. Fisher, 41, is 12 years older than the woman.

The offence occurred in 2008 when Fisher was a youth pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Hammonds Plains, N.S. He was fired from that job and subsequently lost a job as a youth counsellor at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., when the charges were laid.

Fisher was found guilty last December. The sentencing was delayed almost a year by an accident involving one of the lawyers, an illness and COVID-19.

'I feel ashamed'

Prior to his sentencing Tuesday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Fisher addressed the judge.

"Everything about my involvement was wrong," he told Justice Darlene Jamieson. "My choices placed her in a situation she should never have been in.

"I feel ashamed of what I did and how ignorant I was."

Fisher's lawyer had suggested that the victim had started the behaviour by kissing him. Jamieson dismissed that idea.

"He cultivated the relationship and used his position to sexually exploit a young person," the judge said in her sentence. "Her participation simply does not matter."

The woman testified at Fisher's trial, but did not return to court for his sentencing. Instead, she had a victim impact statement read into the record by the Crown.

"I felt like the shell of a person whose worth and innocence had been taken," she wrote. "Michael ensured that I isolated myself by telling me to keep everything with him a secret."

Victim had 'steely resolve'

Crown prosecutor Rick Woodburn said he's impressed by the woman.

"She's managed to bring herself up, hold herself high and continue on with her life," Woodburn said outside court.

"Like all sexual assault victims that I've dealt with, she has that steely resolve that allows her to move on in her life and put this behind her."

Woodburn had been asking for a three-year prison term but said he is pleased with the 27 months. Fisher's lawyer, Michelle James, had asked for a conditional sentence order, which meant her client would have served his time in the community.

In addition to the prison term, Fisher's name will be placed on the national sex-offender registry for 20 years and his DNA will be recorded in a national data bank.