A Secwepemc First Nations elder and former chief will avoid jail after pleading guilty on Thursday to a charge stemming from a groping incident last year involving a woman half his age.
Felix Arnouse, who spent more than 25 years as chief of the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band, was charged with sexual assault following an incident in Chase on Aug. 26, 2018. He pleaded guilty on Thursday to the lesser included-charge of simple assault.
Judge Stephen Harrison placed Arnouse on a six-month conditional sentence order, the first three months of which will be served under house arrest. Once six months have passed, Arnouse will spend the next year on probation with terms requiring he have no contact with the victim.
Arnouse will also be required to submit a sample of his DNA to a national criminal database.
Court heard the victim, a Little Shuswap Indian Band member in her late 30s, was grieving her mother’s death last summer with support from Arnouse, who is now 72.
On Aug. 25, 2018, Arnouse was at the victim’s house for a smudging ceremony. When he departed, he left his hat and glasses behind.
Arnouse then sent the woman a text message arranging to pick up his belongings the following day. Over text, he told the woman she owed him “a traditional hug.”
She asked what he meant.
“I’ll show you when I get there,” Arnouse replied. “You’ll like it.”
When Arnouse arrived the following day, he hugged the woman and placed his hands on her behind.
“During the hug, he reached down with both hands to her buttocks,” reads an agreed statement of facts read in court.
“Mr. Arnouse squeezed twice while holding [her] buttocks. Mr. Arnouse then poked [her] left side. [She] confronted Mr. Arnouse about the fact this was not a ‘traditional hug.’ At that point, Mr. Arnouse reached out and touched [her] lips with his index finger vertically positioned and then left.”
The woman read a victim-impact statement in court, detailing her struggles in the months since the incident. She said she lost her job and has been forced to move away from Chase.
“When I think about my mother passing, I think about my mother and then I think about Felix Arnouse’s actions,” she said. “I’m not able to mourn the loss of my mother.”
The woman said she has had suicidal thoughts since the incident and consistently has nightmares.
“I was in disbelief he could attempt to do something so cruel, especially at that time in my life,” she said. “I felt dirty… I felt ashamed. I blamed myself.”
Harrison noted the impact the incident had on the victim.
“There’s no doubt this amounted to a serious affront to her dignity,” he said. “The victim was particularly vulnerable given the loss of her mother a few days before.”
Defence lawyer Jeremy Jensen read a written apology, penned by Arnouse, in court.
“I did not mean to make you uncomfortable by my behaviour,” the apology read. “I did not think about how you might feel.”