Crown asks for 51-month jail term for Penticton sex offender

Judge hears graphic details in case involving 16-year-old victim, whose father has now launched a lawsuit against the school district

An admitted Penticton sex offender told his teenaged victim he needed the protein contained in semen to treat a medical condition, a judge heard Tuesday.

Rene Mark Bernard Burke, who pleaded guilty to a single count of sexual touching and two breaches of a court order, also took advantage of his victim under an implied threat of violence, according to Crown counsel John Swanson, who’s seeking a jail term of up to 51 months.

The sentencing hearing for Burke, 56, lasted about an hour in provincial court in Penticton, but Judge Meg Shaw reserved her decision.

Swanson told the court the victim, whose name is protected by a publication ban, was estranged from his parents and “basically couch-surfing” prior to meeting Burke through a friend in August 2011.

Burke took the then-16-year-old into his home and provided him with alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, according to the Crown, while at the same time running a “fairly elaborate” scheme to convince the young man “he should do whatever Mr. Burke said.”

That scheme included sending emails from a purported enforcer named Blue Eyes “who would be paying a visit” to Penticton if the teenager didn’t do as he was told, said Swanson, adding Burke also told the teen he was independently wealthy and promised his victim a future that was “virtually unlimited.”

Burke later had a handful of sexual encounters with the teen on the premise that Burke had a health condition that could be helped by ingesting young men’s sperm, Swanson said.

The court also heard that shortly after taking in the victim, Burke applied to the Okanagan Skaha School District to have the teenager transfer schools under his guardianship, and that Burke had previous convictions in Ontario for sex offences.

Burke took “horrible advantage of a young person for his own sexual gratification,” Swanson said, which should attract “a very severe sentence.”

Defence counsel James Pennington said his client, who’s been behind bars for 19 months, took responsibility by pleading guilty. He said Burke has also acknowledged he had an inappropriate but “somewhat symbiotic” relationship with young man, who later told police he didn’t believe that Blue Eyes was real and that Burke was a “convenient” source of alcohol.

“That does not excuse” what Burke did, added Pennington, “but it helps put the whole thing in context.”

Pennington suggested an appropriate sentence would be time served.

The victim’s father said outside the courtroom he’s satisfied with the sentence the Crown is seeking.

“It’s a lot more than I thought,” he said.

Burke, who appeared by video from Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, was seated in a wheelchair and touched his chest repeatedly. He did not address the court when given a chance to do so.

A date will be set Friday for the judge’s decision.

The victim’s father also told reporters that police initially weren’t able to recommend a charge against Burke in August 2011 because his son was over the age of consent.

However, once the father obtained documents from the school district in November 2011 that described Burke as the victim’s caretaker, he continued, it paved the way for the charge of sexual touching, an element of which requires the accused be in a position of trust or authority over the victim.

The boy’s father has launched a separate civil lawsuit against the school district that’s going to trial in small claims court next year.

In an amended notice of claim, the father alleges that district administrators were negligent in their duties when they failed to verify custodial documents, failed to follow policy around student transfers, and failed to release information to him and the RCMP in a timely manner.

“This inaction helped and allowed a pedophile to remain free in the community to sexually abuse a student,” the claim alleges.

The father is seeking $25,000, the maximum award available in small claims court, plus costs.

In its amended reply, the school district denies all of the allegations and says there was no negligence, act, omission or breach of duty on the part of its employees.

And further, the district denies “it altered or permitted an alteration in the home address, custody, or custodial parent of (the victim) as alleged or at all, and denies that it altered or permitted an alteration of the custodial or parental rights, if any,” of the father, the reply states.

The lawsuit was filed in December 2011. Attempts at an out-of-court settlement failed, and the matter is set for trial in Penticton on Jan. 7, 2014.