Albert de Villiers, a former top doctor who led regional health authorities in Alberta and B.C., has been sentenced to to five and a half years in prison for sex abuse of a child.
De Villiers was sentenced on June 13 in a Grande Prairie, Alta., courtroom, one day after Justice Shaina Leonard heard the victim impact statements and received submissions from both prosecutor Amy Pickrell and defence counsel Amy Lind.
Leonard noted in her statement that the sexual assault proceedings had been stayed, and the sentence she was imposing was just for the sexual interference charge.
The child de Villiers was convicted of abusing was between seven and nine years old when the incidents occurred. According to victim impact statements heard in court on June 12, the child has since suffered from physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.
The incidents occurred between 2018 and 2020 while De Villiers was the lead medical health officer for Alberta’s Northern Zone, prior to his move to Kelowna to take on the role with Interior Health.
While defence counsel had sought a maximum term of four years and the Crown had sought a sentence of eight years, in reviewing case law Leonard determined that a sentence between the two would be most appropriate for a variety of factors.
According to Leonard, some mitigating factors in the case were the remorse felt by de Villiers, as apparent by a voicemail left on the father’s phone as noted during the trial, and the nearly 30 letters of support provided to the court by defence counsel.
Leonard did state that de Villiers’ conduct prior to this conviction coming to light was “beyond reproach” according to his friends and family, some of whom were still children themselves.
However, she added, “Character traits in public have little to do with offences which take place in secret,” noting that the letters were less of a mitigating factor when put in the context of the crime.
Another mitigating factor in the case, according to Leonard, was that based on case law, mid-single-digit sentences for this type of crime are normal and that this case did not reach the threshold for a longer sentence.
Finally, Leonard factored in “collateral consequences.”
Due to his high-profile position, the de Villiers case has garnered significant media attention nationwide, leaving him with “unwanted notoriety” and his family highly stigmatized.
“Given the offender’s status, collateral consequences were unavoidable,” said Leonard.
Leonard also noted that de Villiers’ “loss of career is a significant collateral consequence,” as with the conviction, while he is still employable, he will never again be able to use his skill as a physician or earn the remuneration to which he was accustomed.
Aggravating factors in Leonard giving de Villiers a five-and-a-half-year sentence over the defence’s requested four years include the seriousness of the offence against the victim, the age of the victim, the absence of a guilty plea, and collateral harm to the parents of the child.
Finally, Leonard looked at de Villiers’s likelihood to re-offend.
“I find the offend is at risk to re-offend,” said Leonard. “The risk is not zero.”
As de Villiers has relocated to Red Deer, Alta., since the start of the criminal proceedings against him, Leonard said she will advocate for him to serve his time in Bowden Penitentiary.
In addition to the prison sentence, de Villiers must also be placed on the sexual offender registry, provide a DNA sample to the offender database and he will also face a lifetime prohibition on owning firearms.
While this sentence in this matter has now been imposed, de Villiers still faces three other charges related to voyeurism, making explicit material available to a child and invitation to sexual touching in unrelated incidents that are alleged to have occurred between January 2017 and December 2019.
De Villiers faces trial on those matters beginning Aug. 22.