A man caught masturbating in the St. Albert Walmart parking lot and peeking through windows in the community was sentenced to time served and a year-and-a-half of probation on Wednesday.
Vincent James Whitford pleaded guilty in July 2021 to two of the 32 charges against him, which related to voyeurism stemming from a string of incidents in St. Albert between 2012 and 2016, many of which saw him peeking through windows of people's homes and recording women in various states of undress.
Between Jan. 1, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2016, Whitford observed and made visual recordings of 23 women, 22 of whom do not know they were being observed, court heard in the agreed statement of facts.
On Nov. 3, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Paul Belzil sentenced Whitford to four months in jail and 18 months’ probation. Whitford received full credit for time served and was released back into the community after the sentence was read.
Belzil said there would be no additional custody after sentencing for Whitford, who is out on bail.
“The court sees no merit in assessing you additional time in custody,” Belzil said.
Crown prosecutor Alison Magill, in a joint submission with defence counsel Steve Fix, said the sentence focuses on denunciation, rehabilitation, responsibility, and harm done.
Photos of 22 unknown women were found in various states of undress during an investigation and voyeuristic photos and videos of naked women and children in what appeared to be a family change room were also discovered.
Whitford also pleaded guilty to committing an indecent act to a witness.
Whitford was first reported to the RCMP on May 8, 2016, after he exposed himself to and masturbated in front of a woman in the St. Albert Walmart parking lot.
The woman was parked beside Whitford in the Walmart parking lot and when she came out from doing her shopping she found Whitford in the passenger seat of his vehicle with a t-shirt draped over the passenger window and was exposing himself and masturbating. Whitford had left a note on her windshield reading “I like you watching me. Plz text me” followed by a phone number to text him at.
The woman noted the licence plate of the vehicle and called the RCMP and they discovered both the phone number and the vehicle belonged to Whitford’s wife.
A few months later, on Nov. 19, 2016, a St. Albert woman called the RCMP after her tenant found an iPhone without a passcode on it in their backyard in a crescent in the Lacombe Park neighbourhood, according to the agreed statement of facts.
The tenant had looked through the phone and found voyeuristic photos of a woman in a nightgown and other photos of women in various states of undress which appeared to have been taken from outside of their homes and through windows.
The phone also contained two videos of naked children taken in a change room. The RCMP determined the phone belonged to Whitford.
The next year, on March 1, 2017, another woman reported a male in her yard to RCMP. The RCMP found Whitford hiding behind a tree in a yard on the same Lacombe Park crescent Whitford had been found in 2016. He was arrested and charged with trespassing.
RCMP found a GoPro camera attached to a stick, cellphones, binoculars, and a backpack which contained multiple pairs of women’s underwear at the time of the arrest.
The woman’s neighbour was also interviewed by RCMP after the woman said her neighbour had had a similar experience.
In August or September of 2016, the woman's neighbour told RCMP she was doing her "waking up routine," when her dog started barking. She went to the window and saw a man on all fours. She screamed and shut the curtain. RCMP showed the neighbour a still image from Whitford’s phone and the neighbour identified it as herself.
During a July 2, 2017, interview with RCMP, Whitford told an officer he is not shy, and that he "gives them notice, that he notices them and that is how he has always been," when he is masturbating in public.
Whitford told police he had never been inside anyone’s home.
“I’ve never entered anywhere to, for anything like that. That’s not my thing,” he said, according to court documents.
"I've never broken that barrier," said Whitford. "I've looked and I've snapped photos before.”
Throughout the investigation 22 photos of unknown women were found on various smart phones, tablets, and cameras seized by RCMP and those women are "not in a position to know they are victims," and can't be identified, said Magill.
"The harm is experienced to the community nonetheless.”
The court considered his plea a mitigating factor in sentencing on Nov. 3, as the case would have led to a trial two weeks in length, and called on 17 witnesses.
“This would have been a difficult trial,” said Belzil.
Magill said the nature of the charges were circumstantial and would have involved combing through years of images on a phone.
Aggravating factors included that events unfolded over a prolonged period of time, with 23 separate instances. Magill said the instances related to the "change room [are] particularly concerning.”
There were 20 conditions in Whitford's probation, which included curfew conditions, limitations on where Whitford can go, which includes change rooms, and giving probation officers the agreed statement of facts.
“They need to know it relates to sexual offences,” said Magill.
The 22 unknown women whose photos were found on various smart phones, tablets, and cameras seized by RCMP are "not in a position to know they are victims," and can't be identified, said Magill.
"The harm is experienced to the community nonetheless.”
Whitford has not breached any conditions since he was released in July.
COVID-19 played a factor in the sentence, which has caused harsh conditions for those in custody, Magill said.
Belzil noted he is satisfied with time served, but under normal circumstances the case would warrant a period of custody.
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette