Man who harassed his ex-fiancée is banished from the British Columbia town where he lives

A man who stalked his ex-fiancée for months after their breakup has been banned from coming within 50 kilometers of the British Columbia town where they both live, in what legal experts describe as a rare case of “banishment” as a condition. of probation.

In his ruling, Judge Oliver Fleck acknowledged the seriousness of the condition, which will require Fort St. John resident Dustan Olof Sweder to obtain court permission before approaching his community, located in the Peace River region of the province, for three years after being murdered. released from custody.

“I am fully aware that this is a significant imposition on Sweden’s freedom. “He owns a home in Fort St. John and the city has been his home for at least two decades,” Fleck wrote in his Sept. 28 decision, which was posted online last week.

“However, in my opinion, this condition is necessary to protect (his former partner’s) psychological well-being, as the lesser prohibition conditions that allowed Sweder to return to Fort St. John have not worked.”

Those minor conditions were imposed for a series of alarming “criminal acts” the Swede committed after his eight-year relationship with his ex-fiancée ended in the summer of 2022, and which kept him behind bars for most of the fall. said the judge.

Swede, according to a risk assessment report, refused to accept the breakup.

The court heard the 49-year-old violated orders not to contact his ex-partner again and again, including showing up at her job, writing her half a dozen letters in a single day from Prince George’s Regional Correctional Center and threatening her. . suicide in a phone call days after her release.

At one point, he posted approximately 75 billboards around Fort St. John with messages urging his ex to reconcile with him.

Fleck summarized that Sweder was jailed for weeks for those crimes, only to resume the harassment shortly after being released. He racked up a string of convictions, including for criminal harassment, breaching probation and disobeying court orders.

The most recent incident took place on February 9, 2023, when Sweder, two days after his last release, broke into his ex’s workplace after hours and left a series of notes and drawings for her to find, leading to his longest sentence yet. of two years less a day, and an order that he stay away from Fort St. John during her subsequent parole.


AN UNCOMMON APPROACH

Isabel Grant, a professor at UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law who wrote an article on dating harassment referenced in the Fleck decision, said that in her experience, prohibition orders so widely applied They are “absolutely uncommon.”

“I teach a sentencing course and see very few cases of what is often known as banishment,” Grant said.

These types of conditions can have serious consequences for a defendant, he said, if they disconnect an offender from their support system or limit their access to their children, but they also recognize the immense impacts these crimes have on their victims, who are more They are often forced to change their own lives to protect themselves.

“Usually when a woman goes to the police saying she’s being criminally harassed… the first thing they tell her is to change your routines, change your phone number, take a different route home from work,” he said. Grant.

“It is significant that this court says that this plaintiff should not be the one to take all the steps to prevent harassment.”

Sarah Leamon, a Vancouver-based criminal defense lawyer, said she has represented clients subject to no-go orders, including some wide-ranging ones, and that the conditions are generally a “last resort” when previous interventions have failed.

“We have to remember that sentencing is a highly individualized process,” Leamon said.

“In cases where a person has been previously sentenced for similar crimes, has not been rehabilitated, and continues to reoffend, then specific deterrents will be a primary consideration for the judge.”

While Leamon declined to comment on the details of Sweder’s case, he said the banishment decision sounded like a “broad and perhaps very appropriate interpretation of the harm and violence that can occur as a result of crimes like these.”

Sweder’s ex declined to provide a new statement about the victim impact of her latest sentencing – the court heard she was afraid of repeating the process – but did discuss the emotional impact of her outburst with the perpetrator of a pre-sentence report.

“She was horrified when she arrived at work and realized that the raid had been her fault. She felt like I was the Swede sending her a message,” Fleck wrote. “As she (the victim) tried to work that day, she finally described that she felt like she couldn’t breathe and needed to go home.”

The report noted that Sweder also destroyed a piece of art by the victim’s daughter, which he kept in his office.

“She fears for her safety, especially if Sweder finally realizes there is no chance of getting back together with her,” Fleck added.


DIFFERENT TYPES OF DAMAGE

A psychiatric evaluation found that Sweder presented a high risk of reoffending due to a “strong need to explain himself and to feel heard and understood,” according to the decision, although the psychiatrist opined that it was “unlikely that Sweder would engage in serious or violent acts.” life”. “Threatening to harm” his ex.

For his part, Sweder tried to explain his actions as romantic gestures and expressed surprise that the judicial system considered him a danger because, in his opinion, he had never demonstrated violent tendencies.

“This attitude betrays the idea that the only form of violence is physical violence,” Fleck wrote. “The Swede seems unable to understand that his actions have caused psychological damage (to his ex), and that damage is real.”

Shortly after their breakup, Sweder was also accused of assaulting his ex-partner, although that charge was eventually dropped.

Even in cases that never escalate to assault, or worse, Grant said the devastating impacts of criminal harassment should not be underestimated.

“It is not an isolated incident of violence, it often lasts months or years,” he said.

“The predominant harm of these crimes is what they do to the lives of victims, in terms of their ability to feel safe moving around their own communities.”

Grant said he wouldn’t be surprised if Sweder tried to appeal his banishment, pointing to another 2020 case in which the British Columbia Court of Appeal overturned a similar order.

She also emphasized that she was not arguing that such orders are “always appropriate,” or even necessarily appropriate for Sweder, since she was not familiar with all the details of her case.

“I just want people to think about the impositions we place on victims’ lives in the context of crimes like these,” he said.

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