A former Montreal high school counsellor was handed an unprecedented sentence of 18 years Wednesday morning for sexually exploiting a young girl from the time she was 8 to when she was 11 years old.
Sylvain Villemaire, 60, was found guilty earlier this year of sexually exploiting a minor, human trafficking and possessing juvenile pornography.
The court heard how Villemaire brought an eight-year-old girl from a country in Africa to Quebec on a student visa and sexually abused her for three years, from 2015 to 2018.
He was arrested in 2018 after a police investigation uncovered about 8,000 files of juvenile pornography on his computer.
That’s when police discovered Villemaire had been in “complete control” of the girl, said Quebec court Judge Pierre Labelle, who said the nature and gravity of the case were unprecedented, and that he could not find a similar case or sentence from past jurisprudence.
The 18-year sentence appears to be a first in its length among human-trafficking cases in Canada.
Labelle recounted how Villemaire had paid a mother in an African country to bring her eight-year-old daughter to Quebec under the pretence he would offer her a good education.
Instead, he effectively kept her as his slave, threatening to send her back to her country when she turned him down. He made her sign a contract saying that she would do everything he asked her to.
CBC News is not naming the country the girl came from because her identity is under a publication ban.
Accused showed no remorse, judge says
In handing down his sentence Wednesday at the Montreal courthouse, Labelle said Villemaire showed no remorse for his crimes, and was at risk of re-offending and did not comprehend the severity of his actions.
Villemaire represented himself during the court proceedings, alleging he was betrayed by lawyers. A psychologist testified he presented symptoms of antisocial and narcissistic personality disorder.
Villemaire appeared by video conference on a TV turned toward Labelle as the judge read his sentence Wednesday.
The sentence represents a total of 18 years of incarceration, including 10 years for the sexual exploitation of a minor and eight years for human trafficking, to be served consecutively. The sentences for a number of other charges are to be served concurrently.
Villemaire has already been in custody for about three years while awaiting his sentence, which will be counted for about five, so he has 13 years and some months left to serve.
The case will be back in Montreal court in October because prosecutor Amélie Rivard has made a request for Villemaire to be designated a dangerous offender, meaning he could spend even more time in prison.
Rivard declined to comment on the sentencing, saying the case is still before the court.
Case viewed as exceptional in its severity
Labelle said the case was exceptional in its violence and severity.
Villemaire is banned from using the internet for at least 25 years, as well as from being in contact with anyone under the age of 16 or going near a place where children may be, such as daycares or community centres.
He is not to have any contact with the victim. He had told the court he hoped to remain a mentor in her life, prompting the judge to say Villemaire did not understand the full scope of his actions.
For 27 years, Villemaire worked in Montreal high schools as a psychoeducator, an umbrella term used in Quebec for counselling roles in educational settings. His exact job description was not specified.
Labelle said the victim suffered unthinkable trauma and that he hoped the adults she encountered from now on would be kind people with good hearts.