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Delivery driver avoids jail time for Kelowna sexual assault

Hamid Al Dergham, 51, who has permanent resident status in Canada but is a Syrian citizen and came to this country five years ago, grabbed a Kelowna’s woman’s crotch and breasts and attempted to kiss her as the two sat on her backyard patio.
The Kelowna Law Courts.

A former food delivery driver, who was found guilty of sexual assault earlier this year by a Kelowna jury, has been sentenced to a five-month conditional sentence and three years of probation.

Hamid Al Dergham, 51, who has permanent resident status in Canada but is a Syrian citizen and came to this country five years ago, was found guilty of sexual assault in March for grabbing a Kelowna’s woman’s crotch and breasts and attempting to kiss her as the two sat on her backyard patio.

The Skip The Dishes delivery driver had just delivered a take-out food order and sat down beside the woman and started talking to her via a phone translation app. Al Dergham speaks Arabic and very little English.

During his trial in March, a translator had to be provided to translate the proceedings into Arabic for him.

The conditional sentence includes house arrest for the first three months—with an allowance for attending his new job as a dishwasher and for medical appointments—as well as a nightly curfew, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for the remaining two months. The curfew will remain in place for the first 18 months of a three-year probation period to follow the first five months of the sentence.

The conditional sentence followed by probation was proposed to the court in a joint submission by the Crown and defence.

In passing sentence, B.C. Supreme Court Judge Shelley Fitzpatrick said she agreed with the lawyers that the offence was on the lower end of sexual assault.

“But this is a serious event that demands a serious response,” she said.

In addition to the house arrest, curfew and probation, Al Dergham was also ordered not to contact his victim—whose identity is protected under a publication ban—be any place where she is, undergo counselling, register with the sexual offender’s registry, surrender any travel documents such as his passport, stay in B.C., not possess firearms or other weapons for 10 years and could face deportation.

Crown prosecutor Catherine Gagnon said the reason for the five-month conditional sentence was so Al Dergham could appeal any move to deport him, something he could not do if the incarceration portion of his sentence was longer than five months.

In her victim impact statement, which was submitted in written form to the court, the victim, who is a single mother, said the assault left her worried about her safety and that of her children particularly because it happened at her home. It also gave her general anxiety, particularly around men who "look like Mr. Al Dergham.” The woman was not in court for the sentencing.

Al Dergham pleaded not guilty at his trial and said he did not touch the woman as they chatted on her back patio. A pre-sentencing psychological report said he continues to maintain his innocence but said he is considered a low to moderate risk to re-offend.

His lawyer Michael Patterson said his client suffered harsh public consequences since he was found guilty in March. He lost his food delivery job with Skip The Dishes and his home and was forced to live in his car for a time. He has now found new accommodation and while his three children now live with him, his wife left him and the local Syrian community has shunned him, not allowing him to worship at the local mosque. Patterson said Al Dergham does not have any friends outside the local Syrian refugee community.

Following the assault, the woman left her home and stayed the night with a friend. The next day she found messages from Al Dergham on an internet app and then called her directly.

She messaged him saying: “Stop contacting me" and “I ordered food, not to be sexually assaulted,” according to testimony at the trial.

The start of Monday’s sentencing was delayed because no interpreter was provided. Eventually, one was found who interpreted the English proceedings into Arabic for Al Dergham.