By looks alone, the natty young man at the defence table might well have been an articling law student, if not for the lack of a gown over his fitted grey suit with thin, muted pinstripes.
In reality, the well-groomed 27-year-old was a rapist named Daniel Katsnelson who, with a male friend, prowled several floors of a York University residence during frosh week in 2007. Looking to "get lucky" after a boozy night out, they checked the halls for unlocked doors, and when they found some, Mr. Katsnelson forced himself on two young students, ages 17 and 18, who had yet to begin their university careers.
One was a virgin, the other bled for a week, and both are living lives forever altered from the ones they had begun, the ones their parents, with love and high hopes, had set out for them.
It's a safe bet spectators thought things could not get worse in Ontario Superior Court on Friday, once the two women finished reading out their victim impact statements. But things did get worse when Crown prosecutor Andrew Locke rose to recount the rapist's own words, as recorded by a probation officer in a pre-sentence report.
"[Mr. Katsnelson]states he hopes some day the victim will be able to take away something positive from this, as he has," the report's author wrote. When asked what that might be, Mr. Katsnelson "suggested that now maybe she will know to keep her doors locked, while adding the offence would have been devastating to her."
A shudder of revulsion moved through the court, just one among several disquieting moments in a brief proceeding during which the Crown argued for a 10-year prison term and the defence requested a sentence of three to five years.
Mr. Justice Ian MacDonnell will deliver a sentence on April 14. Mr. Katsnelson, who pleaded guilty to sexual assault and sexual assault causing bodily harm, had been free on bail since shortly after his September, 2007, arrest, but is now in custody to await his sentence.
"It is hard to imagine a more egregious set of facts," Mr. Locke told the judge. "He has left a trail of devastation in his wake. He has changed lives forever."
That much was clear in the words of the two women, who spoke of their physical pain in the weeks after the attacks, and their persistent fear and mistrust since.
"I am afraid of the dark and always sleep with the TV on," said one, an aspiring dancer who added that dating relationships have been difficult to establish. "Rape is like a tattoo; it may fade away with time, but it will never be gone."
The second woman broke down in tears two sentences into her statement. She said she had hoped the incident would be a "bump in the road," but instead described a rough, dark ongoing journey.
"For the past three years, I have spent every day pushing the thoughts of what happened to me out of my head, but it always comes back," she said. "I used to be a little too idealistic in believing everything happens for a reason ... but nothing good has come out of what happened to me."
In contrast, court heard Mr. Katsnelson, himself a York graduate, spent his time on bail moving forward with his life by establishing a successful business, endorsed by the City of Toronto, in the environmental field. His lawyer, Mary Cremer, pointed to this achievement, won while under strict bail terms, as a positive sign for his prospects of rehabilitation.
The author of his pre-sentence report acknowledged that many people who know Mr. Katsnelson thought his behaviour on the night of the rapes was "out of character," given his lack of criminal past and his previous work with children at summer camps and after-school programs. However, he also told the author he doesn't believe he needs any counselling, and that his behaviour "is not who I am - I am not violent."
With an audible sniff, Mr. Katsnelson then read out his own statement in court.
"I'm so sorry to the victims, their families, to York University" and everyone else affected, he said, facing the judge, his back to the victims. "I'm not the same person who made those terrible mistakes; it feels like a lifetime ago."
Mr. Katsnelson expressed hope his victims "will get some closure." At the end of the proceeding, he left the table, walked to his mother in the gallery, kissed her on the cheek and returned to the front of the courtroom to be handcuffed.
As he spoke, one of the young women wept quietly, flanked by her parents.
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