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Burns Lake has finally gotten some closure this week after former mayor Luke Strimbold has been sentenced to two years less a day for his crimes of sexual assault, sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching.
All his crimes were committed on youth, under the age of 16.
The 29-year-old former mayor pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault in addition to once count of sexual interference and one count of invitation to sexual touching.
Many members of the community are unhappy with the verdict, feeling the sentence was light considering the original charge was 29 sex offences over a two year period against seven minors between 2014 and 2017.
The Crown had asked for four to six years in federal prison, however the judge ruled that Strimbold will instead serve his sentence in a provincial institution followed by two years probation upon his release. He will remain a registered sex offender until 2039.
The time period of the assaults overlap with Strimbold’s time as mayor 2011-2016.
Madam Justice Brenda Brown of B.C. Supreme Court factored that in as part of her ruling saying that Stimbold was in a position of authority. Brown also acknowledge Strimbold’s use of drugs and alcohol and that he had in fact sought out counselling for these issues prior to any charges being laid. She delivered her decision via video conference from Vancouver to the courtroom in Smithers, B.C.
Justice Brown said that Strimbold has shown remorse and is of low-to-moderate risk to reoffend.
Strimbold delivered a tearful apology to his victims at a sentencing hearing last week, according to CBC. He described them as friends and said, “I am deeply sorry to each of them and will forever be regretful.” He went on to apologize to the community of Burns Lake, saying, “I am sorry I let you down.”
Stanley Tessmer, Strimbold’s defence lawyer told the court that his client was the victim of abuse himself at a young age. Strimbold was unable to recognize that abuse and such is the reason he was unable to recognize the problem with his own actions when the originally occurred.
Tessmer also brought to the courts attention that Strimbold was a closeted gay man who was bullied in his youth which led to his substance abuse.
Tessmer asked the court for 18 months in a provincial jail.
Former Babine Lake First Nation Chief Wilf Adam was unhappy with the verdict, calling the sentence “unacceptable,” saying it failed Strimbold’s victims as well as the people of Burns Lake who’d put their trust in him as mayor.
“I just find that totally unacceptable. The system has failed the victims,” he said.
Adam was chief of Lake Babine at the same time that Strimbold held office and the two worked closely together on multiple occasions including dealing with the aftermath of the 2013 Babine Forest Products mill explosion in Burns Lake, according to CBC.
This is no doubt one of the reasons Adam felt so frustrated by the sentence saying that 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.”
Now a board member of the Northern Health Authority and the First Nation Health Council, Adam has been working to bring counselling services to anybody in the Burns Lake area who is seeking help. He feels the recent trial has likely brought up some painful memories for any members of the community who had previously experienced abuse themselves.
CBC reported Adam said that if Strimbold does want the community to heal than, “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.”
“He really needs to help himself.” said Adam.