A TRU international student faces deportation after he was given a suspended sentence Thursday for spanking his preschool-aged daughter.
Provincial court judge Stella Frame said the public needs to be reminded that spanking of the kind dealt by Stanley Okeh on his then-three-year-old child is a criminal offence.
Worse is the fact Okeh is her father, a relationship Frame called "a sacred trust." He was convicted of assault in October following a trial.
For most people, the difference between what the Crown asked for — a suspended sentence — and Okeh's desire for a conditional discharge wouldn't amount to much. There is no fine or curfew typically attached to either.
But defence lawyer Sheldon Tate warned a sentence other than a conditional discharge, in which no criminal conviction is entered, is tantamount to a deportation order. Okeh is a Nigerian national who is studying at TRU as part of his quest to become a medical doctor, like his father back home.
Okeh's study visa has expired and he has 90 days in which to reapply. A Canadian Border Services letter warned a conviction may impact his ability to remain in Canada.
Tate argued a suspended sentence, which carries a criminal record, will send him back to Nigeria forever — killing his dreams to become a physician and effectively preventing contact with his daughter during her childhood.
Since the incident, Okeh has been allowed supervised visits with his daughter, after she requested it. Prosecutor Iain Currie said the parents already strained relationship broke down completely following the incident.
The spanking occurred the evening of July 26 last year.
Clarissa Hart, the mother, left her daughter Talia in the care of Okeh for the first time. The two did not live together; Okeh saw her every week or two and had never cared for Talia overnight.
The science student testified that he spanked Talia to correct her after she fussed and tried to escape from him while he changed her diaper. He had been awakened and was suffering from a lack of sleep.
He said in court that he struck Talia on the back as he tried to press her to the floor as she flipped over to escape.
Talia's mother noticed the red marks on her daughter the next day. She texted Okeh, asking him what happened.
He responded "she haz to learn gud frm young."
Hart shot back "not like that, that will never happen again."
Tate said Okeh's reputation has already suffered due to publicity surrounding the case. He also said parenting standards differ in Nigeria, something that should be considered in sentencing.
"To make Mr. Okeh a sacrificial lamb in order to communicate to the Canadian public would be an error in law," he argued.
But Frame said Canadians must be reminded that spanking has strict limits.
During his nine-month suspended sentence, Okeh can only meet with his daughter in the presence of another person. He must also take anger management counseling.
"Since 2004 people in this country have known you can't hit your children like this," Frame interjected during sentencing arguments.
"We still have people doing that. People are spanking their children until they bruise."
Okeh was charged in December with assault in an unrelated matter. Those allegations have not yet been heard in court.