CALGARY — The Alberta Court of Appeal has ruled a blind man who once competed for Canada in the Paralympic games will serve jail time for sexual assault.
Keith Myette of Calgary was convicted in October 2011 of attacking his roommate as she slept. He was sentenced to 18 months house arrest.
Provincial court Judge Heather Lamoureaux said Myette could not be reasonably accommodated in jail and that prison would subject a blind person to more punishment than other inmates.
But in a 2-1 ruling Tuesday, the Appeal Court panel threw out the original decision and sentenced Myette to 90 days in jail to be served on weekends, plus one year of probation.
“Although imprisonment may have a disproportionate effect on the disabled, this cannot be used to forgo the imposition of custodial sentences where it would otherwise be warranted,” wrote justices Constance Hunt and Jack Watson.
The justices said if such a ruling was allowed to stand, people with disabilities could never be sent to jail, no matter their crime. They also noted that Myette’s crime was serious and that he continued to assault the woman after she woke up.
An official with Alberta’s Justice Department testified at Myette’s trial that the province has no specific policy to deal with blind inmates. Disabled prisoners are housed in protective custody, mainly with people convicted of sex offences.
Peter Martin, the dissenting justice on the panel, said he would have dismissed the Crown’s appeal.
Martin wrote that sending Myette to jail would be unduly harsh because he won’t be able to read signs, make his way around or see another prisoner approaching him.
“He would be completely defenceless and at the mercy of other prisoners and his keepers to help him perform even the most basic of daily functions,” Martin said.
“That is particularly so as the respondent would not have the assistance of his guide dog on whom he has come to depend for the past 10 years.”
Myette, a runner, won the bronze medal in the Seoul 1988 Paralympics in the blind 800-metre category. He also competed for Canada in the 1992 games in Spain.
The official also testified that inmate rules and regulations are not available in braille, guards and other staff are not trained to deal with the blind and that Myette will have to depend on other inmates to get him food and to help him make his bed.