Former BC Liberal MLA Judi Tyabji admitted at her son’s Powell River sexual interference trial that she did not check the ages of two high school girls that volunteered to work on the family sheep farm in January 2016.
One of them was 14 at the time and her complaint to police resulted in Kasimir Tyabji-Sandana being charged in 2020 with sexual interference of a person under 16 and invitation to sexual touching of a person under 16.
Tyabji-Sandana, 35, pleaded not guilty in B.C. Supreme Court to the allegations, which date back to the second half of 2016. The maximum penalty for conviction is 14 years in jail.
Tyabji testified Oct. 5 before Justice Peter Edelmann and a jury that she only recently discovered the girl’s age from Tyabji-Sandana’s defence lawyer. She assumed that the girl was a senior in high school because she arrived with a clipboard and forms to be signed to confirm hours worked.
“If we knew the age of the person, then we would not let them work under age of 16,” Tyabji told the court.
“The only reason that we let these girls on the farm is we were helping them get credits for graduation.”
The girl eventually found a paying job at a grocery store in April of 2016. Tyabji-Sandana contacted her by email and they sparked a relationship that summer.
In his opening statements, defence lawyer David Tarnow emphasized to the jury that his client was not charged with sexual assault and that consent was not an issue for the trial. Instead, it was the age of the alleged victim.
Tarnow asked Tyabji-Sandana, who testified in his own defence, what he would have done had he learned the girl was 14 when she began volunteering on the farm.
“She seemed nothing like a 14-year-old that I’d known at any point in my life. I guess I would’ve told my parents that she was 14,” Tyabji-Sandana said.
“My dad [former BC Liberal leader Gordon Wilson] would’ve been pretty upset, because he doesn’t want people that young working or volunteering on the farm. It’s the rule that he has, he’s really stodgy about it.”
Tyabji-Sandana said that he was under the impression at the farm that she was “like 15-ish, 16-ish” because she was well-spoken, ambitious and “had seemed grown.”
“Between the time that her volunteering on the farm had happened and when we linked up again, her birthday had happened.”
Later in the summer, anticipating that their relationship was turning sexual, Tyabji-Sandana decided to confirm the minimum legal age for sex by Googling “age of consent B.C.” Instead of the assumed 18-years-old, the Justice Canada website said it was 16.
“I thought that was good news, because I thought [she] was 16,” said Tyabji-Sandana, who was 28 at the time.
He testified that he asked her in-person if she had seen his email about the law. “I don’t remember her exact words, but it was discussed and there was no problem.”
Tarnow said people might wonder why he did not also check her identification.
“I had no reason to think she was young. I don’t know why I would have ‘carded her,’ because I’m not a bouncer at a bar,” answered Tyabji-Sandana.
They had sexual encounters at his apartment in September 2016, but he said their relationship eventually fizzled out.
Under cross-examination, the alleged victim, now 22, was adamant that she told Tyabji-Sandana that she was 15 after they first kissed, though she admitted they later discussed advancing their relationship. While Tyabji-Sandana wanted to have sex with her, she said she did not want to have sex with him.
Tarnow suggested it was “incongruent” for her to have not explicitly told Tyabji-Sandana that they should not have sex after he sent her the link to the Justice Canada website about age of consent.
“A lot of my life I have suffered from depression, anxiety and it was a time in my life where I did not feel as though people cared about me,” she said. “And Mr. Tyabji-Sandana fostered the friendship and made it seem as though he did care about me and he was the only one that cared about me.”
The trial continues.
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