Warning: This story contains graphic information about the sexual assault of a child.
A 60-year-old Montreal man who worked for decades as a high school “psychoeducator” could face nearly two decades in prison for bringing an 8-year-old girl from Ivory Coast and subjecting her to three years of horrific sexual abuse.
Sylvain Villemaire was convicted in a Montreal courthouse in February for a range of sexual offences, according to the Montreal Gazette and La Presse, including sexual interference. Court documents obtained by VICE World News that only identify him by the initials S.V. say they also include distributing child pornography and human trafficking of a person under the age of 18. At the time, Quebec Court Judge Pierre Labelle described S.V.’s victim—who cannot be identified under a publication ban—as “bought, sacrificed, and abandoned,” in his judgement.
“The treatment she suffered at the hands of this man was nothing less than enslavement, since he used her like a puppet,” Labelle’s judgement in French read.
S.V. pleaded guilty last year to all charges except human trafficking and distribution of child pornography, according to the court documents. This week Crown prosecutors called for him to face 18 years behind bars, La Presse reported, while Villemaire—who is representing himself in court—is asking for just two years. (In Canada, the mandatory minimum sentence for human trafficking of a minor ranges from 5 to 6 years, depending on the circumstances).
According to court documents, the girl travelled alone from Ivory Coast. S.V. had met the girl’s mother on a dating site and then in person in Ivory Coast, the documents say. S.V. told her he wanted her daughter to have a good education and promised to look after her until the three could be united in Canada.
The court documents say the girl’s mother was supposed to join her daughter in Canada, but despite several attempts between 2015 and 2018, that never happened. They also say S.V. had previously discussed bringing another girl in online chats, but that was unsuccessful.
While the girl moved into S.V.’s home and was welcomed by his family, the court documents say “her life turned into a nightmare” just a few days after her arrival in Canada.
S.V. began sexually assaulted her “an average of three to four times a week,” according to the documents, and ordered her to penetrate him with a sex toy. The documents say he engaged in inappropriate touching, penetration, and sodomy.
In court, the girl testified that S.V. ordered her to perform an unspecified sexual act on a woman that he was having sex with at the time. After finishing cancer treatment in 2017, the documents say, he asked the girl to “play doctor with him,” which involved sex toys.
The documents say S.V.’s attacks on her continued “with regularity” until he was arrested.
S.V. also tried to control the girl, the court documents say. He told her that her mother had “sold” her to him (court found that he sent money to the girl’s mother after she arrived in Canada) and made her sign a contract saying she accepted that S.V., described as her “tutor,” could do whatever he wanted to her—and that she agreed “to never tell anyone, in any way, what he does to me. I will never testify against him, at any level, and I will never allude to it in any way.”
S.V. was caught through a child sexual abuse investigation by the Montreal police in 2018, according to court documents, after an investigator who was digging into the transfer of child sexual abuse material traced it back to its source. The Gazette reported that the probe led to an apartment in Montreal’s Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie borough in May of 2018.
After officers surrounded the building, the Gazette reported, an investigator noticed the girl leaving and asked her who she was. The girl told the officer she was living with her tutor and was going to school. Villemaire was later arrested, according to the Gazette.
The resulting search of Villemaire’s apartment turned up child abuse content and the contract signed by the girl. She was later placed into child protective services.
According to the Gazette, Crown Prosecutor Amélie Rivard told the court that Villemaire’s crimes “have an impact on her now, had an impact on her in the past, and will have a major impact on her in the future.” She said the girl feels betrayed by her mother and isn’t in contact with her biological family anymore.
“He profited from a vulnerability where the mother and (the victim) lived in conditions in Africa where, according to everyone, it was miserable: no water, no electricity, and poor education,” Rivard told the court, according to the Gazette. “And Mr. Villemaire used his status as a rich Canadian man to make the promise of a better life.”
In response to the evidence, Villemaire told Judge Labelle on Wednesday that he was a “good man,” according to La Presse. He is representing himself in court and is refusing psychiatric evaluation, local media reported, although a psychologist from the Phillipe-Pinel psychiatric hospital in Montreal believes he may meet the diagnosis of pedophilia as well as narcissistic and antisocial personality traits.
According to La Presse, an 18-year prison sentence has never been handed down in Quebec for sexual crimes against a child, although stiffer sentences have been imposed in other Canadian provinces. In 2019, an Alberta judge sentenced a man to 23 years in prison for sexually assaulting his three teenage daughters at a paramilitary compound in Wildwood.
Villemaire will be sentenced on August 18.
Follow Brennan Doherty on Twitter.
Maeva Bambuck assisted with translation.