Crown counsel is recommending that the former president of the Hindu temple in Abbotsford receive a jail term of six to eight months and two years’ probation for sexually assaulting a passenger in his taxi in 2019.
But Deepak Sharma’s lawyer is suggesting a six-month conditional sentence – which means Sharma would serve his time in the community – and one year of probation.
The two lawyers presented their recommendations Friday (Dec. 17) in North Vancouver provincial court at Sharma’s sentencing hearing.
Judge Patricia Bond is scheduled to issue her ruling on March 8.
Sharma, 62, was convicted in June of sexual assault in relation to an incident that occurred Jan. 2, 2019 when he was driving his cab in West Vancouver.
The victim and her friend had been in Sharma’s taxi shortly before 1 a.m. when they asked him to make a stop in the 100 block of Whonoak Road to pick up some beer from another friend’s house.
The victim was alone in the cab with Sharma while her friend 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 friend reported the incident to police after safely returning home.
Sharma was arrested on Jan. 17, 2019 and subsequently charged with sexual assault.
Police at the time said Sharma surrendered his West Vancouver taxi permit after receiving a revocation letter.
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 Walmsley Avenue.
When the board became aware that he had been charged, they held an emergency meeting, at which time Sharma resigned.
Crown counsel Sean Harvey said Friday that Sharma should serve jail time because taxi drivers are in a position of trust with the public and he breached that trust.
“The court needs to send a message to all taxi drivers that there will be severe consequences for sexually assaulting passengers,” he said.
But defence lawyer Rajdeep Basra said a conditional sentence should suffice because Sharma has no prior criminal history, the crime for which he was convicted was an isolated incident, and a psychological assessment showed that he is at low risk to re-offend.
Basra also said that Sharma is deeply shamed by his actions and undertands that his behaviour was “grossly inappropriate, especially given his role at that time.”
“He acknowledges that he made a poor decision. He’d been a cab driver for two decades, and he should have known better,” Basra said.