A 23-year-old prowler who broke into a University of Toronto dormitory and rubbed the breast and buttock of a sleeping 18-year-old woman can remain in jail -- or go live in the Bahamas -- a judge said yesterday.
Cameron Ratelle, who is a Canadian citizen thanks to his adoption as an infant by a Canadian woman living in the Bahamas, is to be sentenced to four months in prison on top of pretrial custody after pleading guilty to 11 charges relating to the U of T break-in and sexual assault, Mr. Justice Peter Grossi of the Ontario Superior Court decided yesterday.
But in an unusual twist, the judge postponed imposing the sentence until next week and said that if Mr. Ratelle's mother can prove she has bought him a one-way ticket to the Bahamas and notified both Canadian and Bahamian immigration officials, Mr. Ratelle will be free to go.
Mr. Ratelle, who is deaf and suffers from developmental delay and alcohol addiction, has already served almost 10 months in pretrial custody, for which Judge Grossi is giving him credit at the customary 2-for-1 rate.
So although the judge levied a total jail sentence of two years less a day, only four months remain to be served.
"I'm impressed by your mother's willingness to take you home," Judge Grossi told Mr. Ratelle. "I'm going to postpone imposing the sentence until I get assurance that [you're]getting out of the country and authorities have been told."
Crown attorney Helen Song, who had asked for a two-year sentence on top of the pretrial custody, said outside court that she was troubled by the decision.
"He's a Canadian citizen so he can't be kicked out," Ms. Song said.
She pointed out that Mr. Ratelle could leave his mother's supervision and return to Canada at any time. She also felt the length of sentence did not reflect the fact Mr. Ratelle broke into a dormitory and violated a stranger.
But defence lawyer Jim Ermacora said the decision was a smart one.
"The Bahamas, I guess, is nicer than jail," Mr. Ermacora conceded.
"But realistically, Cameron is going to get out eventually, and it is better for society that there be a plan in place to supervise him."
Mr. Ratelle, who has severe learning disabilities and can barely read, has a criminal record including a previous sexual assault -- in which he lifted a woman's skirt in a Toronto subway station -- and an attempted robbery.
On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault, one of forcible confinement, seven counts of breaking and entering and two counts of possession of stolen property relating to the U of T break-in on Oct. 9, 2001.
Appearing nervous as he gazed at a sign-language interpreter provided to help him in court, Mr. Ratelle twitched, rocked and sniffed almost constantly.
His mother, Carolyn Ratelle, testified he has always been extremely restless and hates to stay in one place. But she said she could supervise him in the Bahamas, with the help of her common-law spouse, more closely than any Canadian probation officer could. According to a statement of facts read in court, Mr. Ratelle went to a student residence on St. George Street just before 6 a.m. on Oct. 9, 2001.
He smashed a window, then realized someone had seen him and ran away.
But he came back minutes later and broke in through the front door.
For an hour, he crept in and out of 18 rooms stealing wallets and cards. If the occupant was male and awake, he apologized and claimed to be searching for a cigarette.
At 7:10 a.m. he entered the room of the 18-year-old victim and began fondling her, the court heard.
Mr. Ratelle is to appear in court again on Wednesday.