Friday, OCTOBER 13, 2023

TORONTO, ON – Inclusion Canada responds to this week’s sentencing hearing in Rosthern, Saskatchewan for Brent Gabona, a former special care home worker who pled guilty to sexually abusing vulnerable residents over a 17-year period. 

The grievous acts committed at Shepherd’s Villa are profoundly disturbing and cannot be tolerated. As a national organization that fights for the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families, we provided a Community Impact Statement to the court as a result of the disturbing and unspeakable crime which has irreparably damaged the individuals and families and the broader disability community. 

On Wednesday, Judge Bruce Bauer adjourned his sentencing decision to January 24, 2024. The Crown is seeking a 15-year sentence while the defense has argued for a 6-and-a-half-year sentence. During the sentencing hearing, it was revealed that Mr. Gabona was hired to work at Shepherd’s Villa in 1992 by his mother. This hiring occurred just months after his conviction for child sexual assault. He worked at the facility until 2009 and has confessed to a history of sexual assault on vulnerable adult residents with disabilities during those years.  

“This case has shaken us to our core. The distressing accounts of sexual abuse on vulnerable adults is unthinkable. The devastating impact it has had on them and their families is profound. We insist on a maximum sentence for the perpetrator as a minimal form of justice for these victims. This whole situation once again underscores the importance of supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities to live independently in a community of their choice, rather than in unsafe congregate settings,” said Krista Carr, Executive Vice-President of Inclusion Canada.

People with intellectual disabilities are five times more likely than people without disabilities to experience sexual assault. Statistically, they are most often abused by people paid to support and care or people in relationships of trust. People living in institutions that congregate and isolate people with intellectual disabilities are known to be in particular danger of sexual assault. The case serves as yet another grim reminder that group homes are not the best solution and put individuals at extreme risk. This tragic case is not an isolated incident but a symptom of a deeply flawed system that often fails to protect the most vulnerable.

“My heart goes out to the individuals and families who were victims of these horrible crimes and abuse. The harm was severe and will result in lifelong trauma, with profound impacts on the victims’ well-being. It’s really time this stops. The risks and the vulnerability to which people are exposed when they live in segregated settings, like group homes, are well documented by statistics and now yet another horrible account to add to the many. We cannot continue to place vulnerable people in segregated places where violence and abuse is more likely than not to occur,” said Robin Acton, President of Inclusion Canada. 

Inclusion Canada calls on the justice system to recognize the profound impact of this case and to take all necessary steps to ensure justice is not only done but seen to be done. We believe that the sentence must reflect the egregious nature of the crimes and the number of victims repeatedly harmed over 17 years. 

Inclusion Canada consistently advocates for deinstitutionalization and the right of individuals with intellectual disabilities to live in their own homes within the community. We believe that being part of a community is the best protection for all individuals. This case demonstrates that. Transitioning from large segregated facilities to smaller ones, like Shepherd’s Villa, does not provide the intended progress. Individuals need to have choice and the right level of support to live independently in their own home in community. Our Community Impact Statement, submitted to the court, further elaborates on the depth of harm caused by such crimes.

The abuse endured by the individuals living in Shepherd’s Villa must be seen as indicative of a more widespread problem affecting vulnerable adults required to live in segregated and congregated facilities across the country. This case is a dire call to action for all stakeholders—enough is enough.

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For media inquiries, please contact:
Jeff Ferguson, Inclusion Canada
416-661-9611 ext. 231

About Inclusion Canada

Inclusion Canada is a nationwide community that champions the rights and inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities, their families, allies, and local associations across Canada. The organization is committed to creating an inclusive Canada where everyone, regardless of intellectual capability, is valued and fully engaged in community life.