RCMP officers escort Brent Gabona out the back entrance of the courtroom in Rosthern January 24 (Gazette photo by Terry Pugh)

Brent James Gabona was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for sexually assaulting and abusing five vulnerable residents of the Shepherd’s Villa care home in Hepburn while he was employed as a care aide there between 1992 and 2009.

The 54-year-old Waldheim resident wore handcuffs as he was escorted by police to a waiting RCMP cruiser  following his sentencing by Judge Bruce Bauer in Rosthern on Wednesday, January 24. He will serve his 78-month sentence in the Prince Albert Penitentiary. Gabona’s name and DNA will also be entered into the National Sex Offender Registry of Canada and will stay on file there for the next 20 years.

Gabona was convicted of three counts of sexual assault  on three different individuals and two counts of sexual touching on two other individuals. All the victims were residents of the group home, and all were vulnerable people who faced significant mental and physical challenges. All but one of the victims cannot be named under a court-ordered publication ban. The one victim whose name can be published is Darryl Boguski, a former resident, now in his 60s, who lives with his younger brother and caregiver, Rick Boguski, in Alberta. Three of Gabona’s victims died prior to his arrest by the Rosthern RCMP on May 10, 2022.

At an earlier court hearing in Rosthern in October, 2023, it was revealed for the first time that Gabona was convicted of a previous sexual assault on a minor in 1992, prior to him being hired at Shepherd’s Villa. During that court hearing, the Crown requested a 15-year sentence, while the defense asked for six and a half years.

In his ruling on January 24, Judge Bauer imposed sentences of 28 months, 18 months, 13 months, six months and 13 months, to be served consecutively. The judge noted that the crimes were “very serious” because they were “intrusive” and took place in the residence of the victims; and also that the residents themselves were unable to protect themselves.

However, the judge also said Gabona’s voluntary confession and expressions of remorse were mitigating factors that contributed to the judge’s decision to reduce the sentence from 15 years to six and a half years.

Rick Boguski, who watched the court proceedings via a web link from his home in Alberta, said he’s angry at what he characterized as an inadequate penitentiary term.

“The six and a half year sentence speaks to our broken justice system,” said Boguski in an email to reporters. “It’s a system that failed Darryl and the others in 1992 when Brent Gabona was first convicted of sexual assault and began working at the group home, and fails us today with accepting Gabona’s word of what happened.”

Naomi and Al Hawkins outside court room in Rosthern  following the sentencing hearing for Brent Gabona January 24 (Gazette photo by Terry Pugh)

Al and Naomi Hawkins, whose son Derek was a resident of Shepherd’s Villa from 2003 to 2005, also expressed frustration at the sentence. (Gabona was the personal care aide for Derek Hawkins during those two years, but has never confessed to sexually assaulting Derek. Derek Hawkins passed away in 2011, and his parents have been working to have charges laid in the case for many years.)

“Brent Gabona got off with a slap,” said Al Hawkins following the court hearing in Rosthern January 24. “As far as giving him any credit for coming forward, he could have come forward in 1993, in 1998, in 2005; but he didn’t come forward until he had no choice. He hid this from everybody for years.”

Naomi Hawkins said Gabona has “ruined hundreds of lives” and that a 78-month sentence was far too light. She said there are likely other victims in addition to their son, and additional evidence needs to be brought forward.

Rick Boguski agreed the whole story has not yet been told.

“The judge in this case said one of the mitigating factors was that all the evidence was brought forward by Gabona,” said Boguski. “We see that as a problem, because Gabona is manipulative and a liar. He built a career being deceptive and a violent sex offender. Are we to accept that a man who by his own accounts underplayed his crimes is telling the truth? A twice-convicted sex offender with multiple victims? It’s a joke, and Darryl has paid the ultimate price. Darryl will never ever get back the years and years he lost while Brent Gabona was violently sexually assaulting him. Nor will he ever fully recover physically or emotionally from the repeated rapes and violence.”

Boguski said the case “highlights an incredibly ableist justice system where the voices of the victims seem buried beneath Brent Gabona’s promise to get help and not sex offend again; promises Brent Gabona has made before.”

Boguski added that now that Gabona is finally behind bars, he’s hopeful the provincial government and its various ministries will be held accountable for how Gabona’s 1992 criminal record was mishandled and buried, and why he was allowed to work at a group home for as long as he did.

“Had people done their jobs, Darryl would not have been violently raped for all those years, becoming the tortured man that he is today,” said Boguski. “We can only hope that now Brent Gabona is finally incarcerated he will know what Darryl felt like not being able to escape.”

Blair Hawkins, a son of Al and Naomi Hawkins and brother of the late Derek Hawkins, characterized the sentence as “a disgrace.”

“So he’ll be out in just over four years,” said Blair Hawkins, in reference to the mandatory statutory release (under supervision) of offenders after they have served two-thirds of their sentence. “That’s a fraction of the time of abuse and mental jail that his victims were exposed to. The only good thing is that he’s serving his sentence in Prince Albert, which is a pretty rough prison from what I understand. I hope it’s hell for him.”