Former Ft. St. James Fire Chief Guilty
Prince George, B.C. – Former Ft, St. James Volunteer Fired Department Chief Robert Harold Bennett has been found guilty of three counts of sexual assault.The assaults had taken place over a 6 and a half year period . All three victims were female volunteer firefighters, two of whom wept as the verdict was delivered by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Glen Parrett.
In two of the counts, Bennett was accused of touching the breasts of two women, grabbing their buttocks, and rubbing his body up against their buttocks. In the third count, he was accused of taking the complainant to a room, locking the door, wrestling her to the ground, and with his penis exposed, was reaching for the complainant’s belt when someone knocked at the door breaking off the encounter.
While the defense had tried to present a case that the incidents of touching the breasts or buttocks of the complainants was meant in a humorous manner, Justice Parrett said he found that not to be the case. He said testimony from other firefighters indicated the atmosphere at the Ft. St. James Firehall was “toxic” and Bennett and his third in command, had “abandoned any pretense of leadership.”
Justice Parrett said he believed the accused knew his actions were not consensual, and dismissed the idea the incidents were meant to be funny because testimony from other firefighters indicated they had “genuine concern” and had tried to protect or screen the women from the unwanted actions of Bennett. In one case, two firefighters physically removed Bennett from the truck of one of the complainants as she tried to leave the area.
Bennett has not yet been sentenced, that will come at a later date when a pre-sentence report has been completed. The 51 year old Bennett will be allowed to return to his home in Ft. St James until sentencing but he is under strict conditions to not have any contact whatsoever with the three complainants. Bennett has been advised that should he breach that condition, he will be immediately detained and brought before Justice Parrett.