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A disgraced former judge has been sentenced to seven years in jail for a string of disturbing sex crimes against underage aboriginal prostitutes.

B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm said his former colleague, David Ramsay, shamed the judiciary, his family, and himself with "perverted lusts."

It is believed to be the most serious crime by a sitting judge in Canada, and likely the longest sentence.

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The sentence shocked legal observers and a throng of native and women activists who travelled to this northern B.C. city to hear the outcome of the case.

Just last month, Mr. Ramsay crafted a plea bargain by admitting to the sex crimes. In exchange, the Crown dropped five additional charges and asked for a sentence of three to five years.

But Judge Dohm said the vile crimes, combined with the abuse of his power, cried out for a stronger sentence. Anything less would have further eroded the justice system's already battered image.

"The accused's conduct was utterly reprehensible," Judge Dohm commented, saying Mr. Ramsay used his office to intimidate the girls and shield his actions from scrutiny.

As the sentence was delivered, Mr. Ramsay's victims, now in their 20s, sat in the front row, red-eyed and shaken. At the time of the assaults, the women ranged in age from 12 to 16.

The assaults took place over a nine-year period starting in 1992, a year after Mr. Ramsay was appointed judge. At night, he would prowl Prince George streets in his car and purchase sex from the young street workers at a notorious strip near the courthouse. Many were natives fleeing poverty-stricken reserves.

The judge took the girls to a wooded area near the jail outside town. Often he demanded they perform degrading and violent acts.

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Mr. Ramsay paid the 12-year-old to simulate rough sex, but took it too far. She escaped from his car but he chased her down and warned her that "no one would believe" her if she told about the attack.

In another case, he left a naked teenager whom he had beaten stranded on a darkened highway. She hitchhiked to safety.

Judge Dohm said Mr. Ramsay treated the teenagers like discarded shoes.

Worse, he often confronted these same girls by day in his Prince George courtroom. Sometimes they were up on prostitution charges.

"He freely engaged in sexual acts with violence," Judge Dohm said. "He sat in judgment of them for the very behaviour he was engaged in."

Mr. Ramsay's wife of 29 years, Sharon, also sat in the first row of the courtroom. None of his four children was present.

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The near decade-long saga of the judge who exploited young aboriginal women might not be over.

Mr. Ramsay's crimes have sparked a furious reaction from native and women's groups, many of whom travelled yesterday to Prince George to vent their disgust at what some called the judge's "reign of terror" over local street workers.

Some say police also have some explaining to do. Activists say it's unbelievable that Mr. Ramsay's rampage lasted as long as it did.

The sentencing came at the end of an emotionally-charged day that drew dozens of protesters to the courthouse. Some could scarcely contain their fury for the grey-haired man who arrived holding hands with his wife and pushed through a gauntlet of onlookers. One woman screamed that he was "sick and disgusting."

Activists say the judge's crimes are proof of deep, endemic problems in the way the legal system treats aboriginal people.

"Ramsay should not have existed as a judge in the legal system as long as he did," said Chief Bill Wilson. "He was a powerful figure who repeatedly committed atrocious acts [and]who was able to hide behind the authority and prestige of his office for many years."

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Mr. Ramsay's lawyer and police have disputed the allegations of racism or a cover-up. They described him as a bad apple in an otherwise reputable system.

Before he was sentenced, Mr. Ramsay rose and apologized to his victims.

"I cannot undo that which has been done, nor take away the pain and indignity that I contributed to their lives," he said.

"I hope that by my plea, my sentence and especially my apology, they will find vindication.

Mr. Ramsay's lawyer, Len Doust, said his client had a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. And he appeared to play down the impact of Mr. Ramsay's crimes. All the young women came from abusive homes and worked as prostitutes. Mr. Doust said the judge can't "be singled out as the only one who took advantage of these individuals."

Retired Supreme Court of B.C. judge Lloyd McKenzie said he could not recall a precedent for a Canadian judge being involved in such serious crimes.

"I have not heard of that kind of judicial misconduct before. It is unique," said Mr. McKenzie, who spent 19 years on the province's Supreme Court, followed by 10 more years as the court's information officer.

"And while I think it is a hefty sentence, I think it is appropriate. I'm sure Judge Dohm agonized over it. I know I would have."

Mr. Doust said the former judge is racked by shame and remorse, has attempted to kill himself, and cannot explain what drove him to commit such violent acts against the teenaged girls.

In September, 2002, he drank a near-lethal cocktail of pesticides, antifreeze and orange juice and was in hospital for six days.

But outside the courthouse and on city streets, there was little sympathy for the judge.

People who work with and counsel prostitutes say the police and courts knew for years that the judge was buying sex from prostitutes.

Mary Clifford, a health worker at the Native Friendship Centre, said she spotted the judge with a young prostitute in a car about six years ago. He was behind the wheel and his car was idling while he spoke to an RCMP officer through his window.

Ms. Clifford said the RCMP officer was in his cruiser, which was idling too. She said she made eye contact with the judge and the RCMP officer drove off.

Mr. Clifford said she filed a complaint with the RCMP but nothing came of it.

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