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Palmerston man avoids jail for historical sex assaults

Michael Hurst was given house arrest and three years probation
File photo

Warning: The following story contains information that some may find offensive and/or triggering.

A Palmerston man has avoided jail time after being found guilty of sex offenses dating back over the past 20 years.

Michael Hurst, 45, was sentenced to two years less a day of house arrest and three years probation after being found guilty of two counts of sexual assault and three counts of committing an indecent act.

The sentence itself provided a deep sense of disappointment for victims and their families, many of whom were in a Guelph court Wednesday.

"The justice system failed us, it did," said one of the victims outside court.

"A very soft sentence for his predatory actions," said another.

The victims were adults. A publication ban prohibits any information that might identify the victims, including details of the incidents themselves.

In rendering his decision, Justice Matthew Stanley acknowledged the damage and trauma felt by many to be real and profound, and goes beyond personal violations and the integrity of each victim.

"The victims spoke of intense and unrelenting guilt that they had done something horrendous ...." Stanley said.

No matter the decision, he added, the victims will have to live with the hurt and trauma caused.

Aggravating factors in sentencing included the vulnerability of victims in each case, and the "serious psychological injury" experienced by them as a result of the incidents.

The indecent acts involved masturbating in front of the victims while he thought they were sleeping.

The two sexual assaults involved involved Hurst climbing into bed with the victims.

When it comes to mitigating factors, Stanley noted Hurst has no previous criminal record, contributes to society as a truck driver, has held volunteer positions as a firefighter and in youth sports, has a supportive family and he sought counselling to acknowledge his issues, something he said Hurst remains committed to. 

"The defense suggests that although he did not enter a guilty plea, he did essentially admit the elements of the offense and was genuinely remorseful," Stanley said.

"I accept that Mr. Hurst is somewhat remorseful. However, this was a trial and not a guilty plea, and that the victims were required to testify, and in doing so, relived the deplorable acts committed against them."

He said while he accepts Hurst admitted to many of the elements of the offense, "it remained, around some of his responses, a shadow of minimization."

The two-year-less-a-day sentence includes complete house arrest for the first 20 months, with the final four months forcing Hurst to be at home at all times between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Exceptions include work, medical, attending religious services, or going to any legal, dental, medical or counselling appointment.

He has also been given a four-hour window on Sundays to run errands such as banking and groceries during his complete house arrest.

Hurst must also keep the peace, remain in Ontario unless he has written permission to do so, be tracked electronically, submit a DNA sample and attend counselling.

He will be put on the sex offender registry for 20 years, and is prohibited from possessing a weapon for five years.

The sentence includes a no contact order with the victims.

But there was concern expressed by the victims that they could still run into Hurst while he's running errands on Sundays, and disagreed with the house arrest decision.

More charges against Hurst remain in Superior Court. He is due to return to court June 15.