FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — OCTOBER 11, 2023.
UPDATED: OCTOBER 11, 5:00 PM
Today, after a lengthy legal proceeding, Inclusion Saskatchewan attended Brent Gabona's first sentencing hearing. Gabona was charged in May of 2022 and later pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault and two counts of the sexual exploitation of a person with a disability. Gabona’s multiple sexual assaults occurred over a 17-year period while he worked at Shepherd's Villa, a group home in Hepburn, Saskatchewan. Gabona is charged with assaulting five residents, but we believe that more victims have yet to be heard and discovered.
Gabona’s unspeakable crimes and his ability to commit them so freely and without repercussion for such a long period of time have shaken us. His crimes have fundamentally broken the trust between those living with intellectual disabilities and the people employed to support them and keep them safe from harm. They have irreparably damaged the individuals and families within the disability community.
“Our hearts are with all of the survivors and their families. These deeply disturbing crimes reveal that there are significant issues around the reporting and identifying of sexual assaults perpetrated against persons with intellectual disabilities and a clear need for more oversight and vetting of support professionals. As an advocacy organization, we are ready to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of those we support and protect and defend the rights of all individuals with intellectual disabilities who enter the justice system,” says Bluesette Campbell, president of Inclusion Saskatchewan.
Inclusion Saskatchewan has been present for all of Gabona’s court proceedings and submitted a Community Impact Statement that was read aloud in court during today's hearing. It is attached to the bottom of this statement.
We have also worked to support families, individuals, and disability support professionals, as well as the Crown Prosecutor, in an effort to ensure that all involved parties have inclusive and equal access to our justice system. Throughout this process, however, we have observed systemic issues within our justice system that must be addressed for persons with intellectual disabilities to be fairly and properly included. The justice system plays a significant role in our society and interweaves with other systemic areas of our work, such as inclusive housing, supported decision making, and access to mental health services.
As part of our ongoing work in this systemic area, we are developing new initiatives to support all persons with intellectual disabilities who enter the justice system. These initiatives include evidence-based police training for interviewing people with intellectual disabilities, collaborative research that will help organizations further understand the impact of unequal access to justice for the people we support, and mental health services for people with intellectual disabilities who have been victims of abuse.
Gabona's next sentencing hearing is scheduled for January 24th, 2024.
Read our Community Impact Statement:
Inclusion Saskatchewan stands here today on behalf of all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Saskatchewan, as well as their families. We stand here on behalf of all of those who reside in group homes throughout the province who have put their trust, faith, and very survival in the hands of support staff who promise to keep them safe. We stand here and speak on behalf of those who do not have a voice, because they were silenced. We stand here and speak on behalf of those who were not heard, because no one would listen. We stand here and speak on behalf of those who were not seen, because their pain was invisible. And, we stand here and speak on behalf of those who are no longer with us, because the help they so desperately needed didn’t arrive in time, or at all.
With one voice, we are here to say that the pain and suffering you have caused has no measure. It has no end. No shape. No colour. No limit or boundary or border. There are no words that can describe it. Nothing that can heal it.
It has rippled throughout Saskatchewan, Canada, and beyond. And, it has caused permanent, severe, and irreparable harm to the people we represent, the disability community, and every person living under the care of support staff. The people in our community are shaken to the core.
For those living with intellectual disabilities, your actions have changed the way they see the world. On top of the barriers they face each day of their lives, they now live in a world where the people they trust the most can no longer be trusted. They live in a world darkened by thoughts of what might happen should they find themselves in the same position as your many victims. They are terrified. They don’t know who, if anyone, they can turn to. They don’t know who, if anyone, will care.
For families of those living with intellectual disabilities, they are left wondering if this is happening to their loved one. Or, that it already happened. Or, that they’ll never know. They live each day, never escaping the thought that, their son, daughter, brother or sister, may be living in agony, powerless and vulnerable, unable to escape. Betrayed and relentlessly victimized and abused by the person responsible for keeping them safe, healthy, and happy.
This is what you have done. This is how you have harmed the people we speak for today.
But, we are also here to say that those living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their families, are resilient. Their lives are built on overcoming barriers, pushing for change, and fighting for inclusion. They are brilliant. They are kind, and just, and caring. Their hearts are filled with love and joy. Their lives are filled with adventure, opportunity, and potential. They are stronger than you can ever know.
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