NANAIMO — A downtown Nanaimo restaurant owner was given the lightest sentence possible for a sex offence at his home involving an underage girl.
Talal El Bakkar, 66, was sentenced Friday afternoon in Provincial Court in Nanaimo to a 90-day intermittent jail sentence and three-years probation after he admitted to having sex with a teenager under 16.
Bakkar, who pleaded guilty to one count of invitation to sexual touching of a person under 16, was visibly distraught throughout his sentencing hearing overseen by Judge Douglas Cowling.
Bakkar owns Aladdin's Cafe on Victoria Cres. He had no prior criminal record.
Two other charges of sexual assault against El Bakkar from the same time period were dropped by the Crown.
Crown prosecutor Leanne Mascolo told court El Bakkar met the victim in January 2015 and the two discussed future employment opportunities. Mascolo said the girl explained she had a few years of high school left and was too young to work for him. Phone numbers were exchanged and the victim, excited at the prospect of making money, did some cleaning work for Bakkar over the next few months.
The victim asked El Bakkar for rides home during the summer of 2015 when she was intoxicated. On one occasion El Bakkar drove the girl to his house where they had sex, court heard.
Mascolo said El Bakkar did not take all reasonable steps to confirm the girl's age, while the victim denied telling El Bakkar she was 19.
Mascolo requested nine-months behind bars.
The girl elected not to present a victim impact statement, nor did she provide context for a pre-sentence report.
Mascolo noted El Bakkar initially denied the offence.
El Bakkar's lawyer Michael Ritzker said allegations against his client spawned online and in-person vigilante style retribution.
Ritzker said “social justice warriors” attacked El Bakkar on Facebook, while Aladdin's Cafe was constantly vandalized. He said El Bakkar was threatened in his restaurant, including a knife attack which left him uninjured.
The 90-day intermittent sentence means El Bakkar will serve his sentence on weekends at the Nanaimo Correctional Centre, allowing him to continue running his restaurant.
Ritzker said El Bakkar, facing the prospect of going to jail, couldn't find anybody to properly run his restaurant.
“He's a fixture in the downtown area of this town,” Ritzker said. “Despite this incident he is of a net benefit to this community in terms of what he does to assist people who are down and out, and also provide employment.”
Two people testified in court to provide character references for El Bakkar, stating he has helped many people in the downtown area, including providing free meals to the poor.
Ritzker said El Bakkar had a serious slip and fall in 2004, leading to a cognitive impairment diagnosis. El Bakkar still suffers memory lapses and chronic depression, according to Ritzker.
Judge Cowling said the evidence presented showed El Bakkar's behaviour was a one-off event.
“I accept that long-term incarceration would have an impact on his business and possibly would have an impact on both his physical and mental health.”
Cowling noted El Bakkar had no incidents during his nearly three-year stint on bail, which he called an unusually long period of time.
El Bakkar, who's married with two adult children, will appear on the National Sex Offender Registry for the next 10 years.
Judge Cowling also banned El Bakkar from being in a position of trust involving people under the age of 16 for the next decade.
On Twitter: @reporterholmes
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