The Crown is seeking jail time for a North Shore taxi driver convicted of sexually assaulting a passenger he was dropping off on Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) land.
Abbotsford resident Deepak Sharma was charged in January 2019 after the victim and a friend reported him to police.
The victim, whose name is protected by a publication ban, testified in court that while they were briefly stopped outside a friend’s house, Sharma grabbed her hand and tried to place it on his partially exposed genitals.
Sharma testified in his own defence that he was under the honest but mistaken belief he had the victim’s consent, but provincial court Judge Patricia Bond said Sharma’s statements were neither credible nor reliable, and his evidence was full of inconsistencies and contradictions. She found him guilty on one charge of sexual assault in June.
At a Dec. 20 sentencing hearing in North Vancouver provincial court, Crown prosecutor Sean Harvey asked Bond to hand down a jail term of six to nine months, plus two years of probation and a ban on Sharma ever becoming a taxi or ride share driver again.
Society encourages people to use taxis as a safe option for getting home, Harvey said, and Sharma was in a position of trust at the time.
“In the Crown’s submission, this was an opportunistic sexual assault committed by a taxi driver against a young, intoxicated woman who trusted him to get her to her destination safely while travelling late at night,” he said. “These cases emphasize the fact that women, and young women in particular, need to be able to feel safe in taxis.”
Recent changes to the Criminal Code of Canada direct judges to emphasize denunciation of the crime and deterrence for others as the primary principles in deciding sentences when the victim of a sexual assault comes from vulnerable personal circumstances. Indigenous women are disproportionately victims of sexual violence, Harvey added.
That change in the Criminal Code, however, came after Sharma’s offence, Sharma’s lawyer Amandeep Sidhu said, arguing his client is entitled to be sentenced according to the law at the time.
Sidhu asserted a six-month conditional sentence, which would be served in the community, plus a year of probation would be appropriate given other court sentences for similar sexual assaults.
After 20 years of driving a cab, it became a large part of Sharma’s identity and he has lost his standing in his community and religious institutions, Sidhu said.
A psychological assessment found Sharma is a low risk to reoffend, and he now has feelings of shame and guilt over his behaviour, his lawyer added.
“Mr. Sharma has, I submit, been punished greatly by loss of employment, stigma, the media attention. His reputation has been damaged and this is not something that gets repaired. This is lifelong – losing your reputation when it comes to an offence of this nature,” Sidhu said.
Sharma is scheduled to be sentenced on March 8, 2022.