The former president of the Hindu temple in Abbotsford has received an eight-month conditional sentence for sexually assaulting a passenger in his taxi in 2019.
Deepak Sharma, 63, was sentenced Tuesday (March 8) in North Vancouver provincial court on one count of sexual assault.
The first four months of his sentence will be served under house arrest in which he will be permitted to leave only to go to his warehouse job or for a medical emergency.
During the last four months, Sharma will be required to complete 50 hours of community service.
Judge Patricia Bond said among the factors she considered in her decision was the media attention that the case drew, resulting in Sharma losing his standing as a “respected community leader” and causing shame to his family and friends.
“The degree of humiliation and disgrace Mr. Sharma has brought on himself, as well as his loss of employment (as a cab driver), are relevant in considering the appropriate sentence,” she said.
Bond said she didn’t believe a jail term would be appropriate because Sharma’s offence was at the “low end of the spectrum” of sexual assault, he has no prior criminal record, he has shown remorse for his actions, and a psychological assessment concluded that he is at a low risk to re-offend.
“A jail sentence could not more eloquently express to Mr. Sharma the degree to which society denounces such conduct,” she said.
Sharma was convicted last June in relation to the incident that occurred Jan. 2, 2019 when he was driving his cab in West Vancouver.
The 26-year-old victim and her cousin had been in Sharma’s taxi shortly before 1 a.m. when they asked him to make a stop to pick up some beer from a friend’s house.
The victim was alone in the cab with Sharma while her cousin went inside the residence.
According to evidence presented at Sharma’s trial, the woman was grabbed in the crotch and her hand was forcibly placed in Sharma’s genital area, which had been exposed through an open zipper.
The woman and her cousin reported the incident to police after safely returning home.
Sharma was arrested on Jan. 17, 2019 and subsequently charged.
At the time of his arrest, Sharma was the president of the Fraser Valley Hindu Cultural Society, which runs Abbotsford’s only Hindu temple, located on Walsmley Avenue.
Bond said Sharma was an active community volunteer and received certificates of appreciation for his work in Abbotsford, Richmond and Surrey.
Sharma resigned from the board of the cultural society and also surrendered his taxi permit after he was charged.
Bond said, as a cab driver, Sharma was in a trusted position when he was left alone with the victim, who was under the influence of alcohol at the time.
“Women are entitled to see a taxi as a place of refuge in which they can expect safety,” she said.
But Bond said Sharma does not pose a danger to the community and has “acknowledged his own wrong-doing and recognized that his actions disrespected the victim and his profession as a taxi driver.”
During Sharma’s sentencing hearing in December, the Crown recommended a jail term of six to eight months followed by two years’ probation.
Sharma’s lawyer suggested a six-month conditional sentence and one year of probation.
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