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Judge rules Edmonton actor not guilty of sexually exploiting teenage castmate

The trial hinged on whether Howarth was in a position of trust or authority over his teenage castmate. (Paige Parsons/CBC - image credit)
The trial hinged on whether Howarth was in a position of trust or authority over his teenage castmate. (Paige Parsons/CBC - image credit)

A judge has ruled an Edmonton actor's sexual involvement with an underage castmate was not criminal.

Patrick Charles Howarth, 50, was found not guilty Tuesday of one count each of sexual exploitation and sexual assault of a teenage girl he met when they were working on a play at the Citadel Theatre in 2006.

The woman's identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban.

In 2006, the age a person could consent to sexual activity in Canada was 14; now it is 16. Now as in 2006, a person under 18 cannot consent to sex with someone in a position of trust over them.

The trial hinged on whether Howarth was in a position of trust or authority, and whether the association between the older actor and high school student was exploitative.

"Most people would agree that a sexual relationship between a 33-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl is repugnant," Justice Susan Richardson told an Edmonton Court of King's Bench courtroom packed with supporters of both Howarth and the complainant.

The woman previously told court that Howarth, who also taught at the University of Alberta, mentored her and made her believe he could have an impact on her career.

Their involvement ended in 2007. Two years later, she told police. There was no follow-up and no police record was found on the matter — Richardson noted "a long and shameful history of the treatment" of sexual assault victims by police and the courts and that it was completely possible nothing had been done.

The woman reported again in 2021. During the trial, she testified that her perspective had changed after becoming a mother and working as a teacher.

Howarth testified that his involvement with the girl was not exploitative.

He described his role as fight captain — assisting the fight director — as minor. He helped actors with their warm-ups before fight scenes.

'Limited standing' within theatre community

Richardson disagreed with the Crown's argument that the position was one of trust and that Howarth's history of work and offers of career help constituted a position of trust or authority.

"The accused had a minor role in the production at the Citadel. He never promised or offered her anything in terms of her own career in the theatre except to help her audition material," Richardson said, adding that Howarth had only "limited standing" within the theatre community.

"The accused was not in a position to materially assist the complainant to further achieve her goals."

Richardson also found there was nothing in the case that could be characterized as isolating or grooming the complainant.

She concluded that the Crown had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Howarth was in a position of trust or authority or was exploitative.