Walter Wenaas was handed down his sentence in Maple Creek Provincial Court on Nov. 14 after pleading guilty to observing a person by electronic means where a person can reasonably be expected to fully or partially disrobe.
The case involved an incident in which a camera was located in a change room at the Maple Creek Fitness Centre.
On April 1, RCMP responded to a report made by a woman who suspected there was a camera hidden in the female change room of the local business. Police investigated and discovered there was a small hole cut in a ceiling tile above the change room where a cable ran from the hole to the manager’s office. The cable was not connected to a computer, but a second cable ran to a monitor which displayed a live feed of the gym area. The cables were placed in such a way they could be changed. RCMP seized several computers, DVDs and other data storage devices located at the gym and the residence of Wenaas, who was subsequently charged.
Wenaas initially denied knowledge of the camera system but later confessed to RCMP he had installed it. He was questioned by the Swift Current Provincial General Investigation Section and admitted to viewing women changing using a camera, which was positioned in such a way it captured gym patrons without showing their faces. He said he could not remember exactly when he installed the device, but believed it was around March 2012. He stated he then observed women in the change room from the office monitor seven or eight times until March 25, 2013, when a woman looked upward in the direction of the camera and did not change.
According to Wenaas, he did not record or transmit any of the video feed. The Crown stated it was confident the system was not set up for that purpose. Wenaas also claimed he did not view anyone under the age of 18.
The Crown noted that since the community learned of the incident, RCMP have received calls from 18 women ranging in age from 16-46 who were concerned they may have been watched while they changed. Senior Crown prosecutor Stephen Kritzer said the offence was a breach of trust for patrons of the business, which is co-owned by Wenaas and his wife. He stated while victims could not be positively identified, a large number of women feel victimized as they will never know if they had been viewed.
The defence stated Wenaas acknowledged the crime has impacted not only the people who may have been viewed but also the community as a whole.
Wenaas told the court he either failed to realize he had a problem or was in denial about it until he was charged.
“I have looked at why this behaviour is a part of my character,” he said.
He apologized to his family and those in the community who may have suffered because of his actions.
“I am really sorry there are victims for my behaviour,” he said. “I’m sorry I have this problem and I hurt other people by it.”
Wenaas stated he began to seek help immediately after he was charged, speaking with ministers, addictions counsellors and a psychologist. He has been participating in online Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings and following their 12-step recovery program.
A pre-sentence report was prepared, and the Crown provided Judge Leslie Matsalla with files on previous voyeurism cases occurring in Alberta and B.C., as it is a crime courts in southwest Saskatchewan have rarely dealt with. Sentences in those cases ranged from a conditional sentence to five months in jail.
Matsalla stated the charge could come with a maximum penalty of five years in jail.
Because there was no family involved in the crime, the judge said it was “not a case that is the most serious in nature,” as it didn’t violate that kind of a trusting relationship. However, he added it was planned and delivered and involved a number of people over a significant period of time.
The Crown and defense made a joint-submission, and Matsalla handed Wenaas a six-month conditional sentence, with the first three months served under 24-hour house arrest, only leaving for the purpose of employment. The last three months will have a curfew imposed. He must take part in counselling for sex offenders and is only permitted to enter the Maple Creek Fitness Centre when accompanying his wife, who requires assistance for medical reasons.
He will then be on probation for one year. In addition to the sentence, Wenaas will also be in the registered sex offenders database for 10 years.