Former television news reporter Ron Bencze is appealing his four-year sentence for sexual assault of a child.
Mr. Bencze, 45, pleaded guilty last July to one count of sexual assault of a minor. The court heard the sexual assaults started when the boy was seven or eight years old and spanned about seven years. The Crown had recommended between two and three years in prison and adding Mr. Bencze’s name to the sex offender registry, while Mr. Bencze’s lawyers had sought a conditional sentence of 18 to 24 months, followed by probation.
However, Surrey Provincial Court Judge Robin Baird called the Crown’s recommendation “too lenient,” and upped the sentence to four years in prison. Mr. Bencze was also prohibited from owning firearms or using electronic devices to contact minors for 10 years, and from attending public areas where children may be present – such as parks, school grounds, swimming areas and daycares – for 20 years.
In B.C.’s Court of Appeal on Monday, defence lawyer Eric Gottardi told the panel of three justices that the four-year sentence was unfit for his client, referencing a psychiatrist’s report that stated Mr. Bencze was not a pedophile, did not have a mental illness or personality disorder and was deemed a low risk to reoffend.
Appeal Court Justice Jo-Ann Prowse said “low risk is not no risk.”
Mr. Gottardi also took issue with the 20-year order prohibiting Mr. Bencze from being in public areas where children may be, saying the sentencing judge did not hear from counsel on the matter.
“It’s one of the longest orders in B.C. history that was made and it was made in the absence of counsel having a chance to make submissions on the point,” Mr. Gottardi said. “Where you’re talking about a very significant restriction on liberty, both sides have to have a chance to make their submissions to the judge. In this case, it didn’t happen.”
The “extreme” order means Mr. Bencze, a “very involved parent,” can no longer attend his children’s soccer or hockey games – or a graduation next year, Mr. Gottardi said. “When his kids have kids, he won’t be able to go to their outings.”
The 10-year prohibition from using electronic devices to contact minors means he cannot e-mail or text-message his own children.
Mr. Bencze, a former reporter for both Global TV and News 1130, was initially charged with nine counts of sexual assault, sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching in alleged incidents involving three minors over the course of a decade. Last July, he pleaded guilty to one count of sexually assaulting a minor. In exchange, the remaining eight charges were stayed.
Defence lawyer Kathleen Bradley cited procedural unfairness, arguing the sentencing judge failed to hear further submissions following the plea deal before making his decision and therefore did not have enough information when handing down the four-year sentence. “Had the sentencing judge had more information in front of him … he may not have gone with the four-year mark,” Ms. Bradley said. “He may have decided two to three years was appropriate.”
Mr. Bencze is currently at the medium-security Mountain Institution in Agassiz.
Several people connected with the families, some wiping back tears, attended Monday’s appeal hearing. One man, who said he was a friend of both families, said Mr. Bencze’s actions have affected their community drastically. “Should he have the right to appeal? I guess so,” he said. “But it’s tough to listen to it again.”
The three justices reserved judgment Monday.