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B.C. judge notes autism effects but upholds no-contact order for former partner

A woman will have to continue to abide by a no-contact order for a former romantic partner.
B.C.'s Court of Appeal hears cases in the Vancouver Law Courts.

B.C.’s Court of Appeal has upheld three probation breach convictions for a woman with autism who repeatedly contacted a former romantic partner contrary to a judge’s orders.

In a unanimous March 28 decision from a three-judge panel, Justice Harvey Groberman said the woman’s autism spectrum disorder manifests itself as an obsessive attachment to particular individuals.

“After a relationship ends, she engages in repeated harassment of her former partner by contacting them against their wishes,” the ruling said.

The woman was sentenced to an effective sentence of 18 months' imprisonment (reduced to nine months to account for time served in custody prior to sentence) and three years’ probation. A no-contact order was part of sentence conditions.

That sentence ends in May.

Her appeal, however, was to modify a three-year probation order or eliminate it entirely.

High functioning

Groberman said the woman is high functioning, with very good cognitive skills and the ability to form strong emotional bonds with others.

He said her "compulsive behaviour" has landed her in court several times and is the behaviour that brought her before the court in this case.

The judge noted the woman had protested the no-contact order.

“She stated that she found it impossible to comply with the no contact provisions of the probation orders. She made it clear that she considered that the orders prohibiting her from having contact with [the former partner] were unjust and should not have been imposed.”

The sentencing judge mentioned her 13 convictions for breaching or attempting to breach court orders.

Groberman said the major question in the case is whether the sentence imposed gave adequate consideration to the woman’s mental disorder.

What happened?

Groberman said the partner found the woman’s obsessive behaviour intolerable, and broke off the relationship.

He said the woman has been unable to accept that the relationship is over and has repeatedly contacted the former partner to the point where the latter felt anxious and afraid and went to the police.

“The effect of the harassment on [the former partner] has been severe. She changed her phone number, her vehicle, her employment and her residence to try to escape from the unwanted attention of the appellant,” Groberman said. “Still, the appellant called her many times a day, and showed up at the places that she lived and worked. Ms. S.’s mental health deteriorated, and she became withdrawn. Eventually, as I have indicated, she sought assistance from the police.”

The judge said there have been similar incidents with others,

The woman said on appeal that the sentencing judge relied on psychiatric and not a psychologist’s evidence.

“It is true that the judge did not have the psychologist’s letters in evidence, but he was fully aware of the appellant’s compulsions, and with her difficulties in abiding by probation orders,” Groberman said. “I do not accept that the judge erred in failing to appreciate the nature of the appellant’s disorder.”

Groberman ruled the judge made no error in his assessment of the evidence in finding that the former partner needed the court’s protection. “Again, the appellant’s lack of insight is unfortunate, but it cannot be allowed to control the court’s findings,” he said.

Groberman said it is to be expected that the woman will gain some insight over time, and it is to be hoped that an effective form of therapy will ultimately be found.

“In the meantime, though, the judge rightly considered that protection of the public was a paramount consideration in fashioning a probation order,” he said.