Former group home worker sentenced to 6.5 years for sexually abusing non-verbal adults in his care

Brent Gabona leaves his sentencing hearing in Rosthern, Sask., in October 2023.  (Chanss Lagaden/CBC - image credit)
Brent Gabona leaves his sentencing hearing in Rosthern, Sask., in October 2023. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details of sexual abuse.

Brent Gabona has been sentenced to 6.5 years in prison for sexually assaulting five group home residents who were in his care.

The crimes occurred more than two decades ago, during Gabona's time of employment at Shepherd's Villa, a group home for adults with intellectual disabilities in Hepburn, Sask., from 1992 to 2009.

He targeted people who were non-verbal because he knew they could not report the abuse.

The accused sexually abused all of the victims in their home, where they — and their families — had a right to expect they would be safe and secure, said Justice Bruce Bauer on Wednesday in Rosthern, Sask., as he delivered Gabona's sentence.

"They were all vulnerable and in no position to resist."

During the sentencing hearing held last October, Crown prosecutor Lana Morelli said Gabona should spend 15 years in prison, arguing the crimes have had a significant and lasting impact.

Gabona's lawyer, Jordan Durant, argued 6.5 years was appropriate, noting Gabona was considered a low risk to reoffend, and had the support of his community and family, including his wife of 32 years and children.

Bauer determined that the appropriate prison sentence for Gabona would be 112 months, or roughly nine years, for his sexual abuse against five victims. However, the courts have to abide by the "totality principal" when dealing with consecutive sentences, meaning the total length of time served must still be considered just and proportionate.

With that in mind, Bauer sentenced Gabona to 6.5 years in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.

"We can only hope that now Brent Gabona is finally incarcerated he will know what Darryl [Boguski] felt not being able to escape," said Rick Boguski, who is brother to Darryl — one of Gabona's sexual assault victims.

Darryl Boguski is the only victim who can be identified, as the rest of the victims' identities are protected by a publication ban. A judge agreed to a request from the Boguskis to lift the publication ban on Darryl's name so that his story could be told.

Darryl attended the sentencing virtually, alongside his brother and guardian, Rick. Darryl was born blind, autistic, with severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

In a statement shared after court, Rick said the brothers are angry.

"The six-and-a-half-year sentence imposed on Brent Gabona speaks to our broken justice system. It's a system that failed Darryl and the others in 1992 when Brent Gabona was first convicted of sexual assault and began working at the group home and fails us today," Boguski wrote.

Rick, left, and Darryl Boguski.
Rick, left, and Darryl Boguski.

Rick, left, and Darryl Boguski. (Kimberly Ivany/CBC)

A confession to police

Gabona's victims were discharged from Shepherd's Villa because of "behavioural" issues. However, Gabona's own actions were not scrutinized until he confessed to police in 2022.

Court heard Gabona was hired at the group home after he graduated from Briercrest Biblical College in 1991. His mother hired him to work at Shepherd's Villa in 1992, even though she knew he had been put on probation earlier that year for committing a sexual offence against a minor.

Gabona helped residents directly at Shepherd's Villa and eventually became a supervisor.

As a care-aid, he assisted adults living with severe intellectual disabilities. Gabona's victims depended on him to help them bathe, eat, dress and get around.

Gabona told police he had started to become aroused while helping male residents bathe or shower, but didn't act on his impulses until he knew he could carry out the abuse undetected.

He pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault and two counts of sexual exploitation of a person with disabilities.

The sexual abuse occurred with all victims multiple times, and escalated over time.

An escalation of abuse 

Gabona confessed to grooming three male victims over an extended period of time. The abuse against his female victims was more "sporadic" in nature.

He claims he only stopped offending once he discovered porn on the internet.

He disclosed the crimes in 2022, first telling his wife, then his doctor and then police, because "his faith and guilt weighed upon him."

Brent Gabona has pleaded guilty to sex crimes against group home residents.
Brent Gabona has pleaded guilty to sex crimes against group home residents.

Brent Gabona has pleaded guilty to sex crimes against group home residents. (Brent Gabona/Facebook)

Justice Bauer noted that Gabona was in a position of trust, was sober and harmed his victims to satisfy his personal urges. He also waited to begin the abuse until he was certain he could do it undetected, Bauer said.

The victims were chosen because of their particular vulnerability and dependency. Gabona engaged in grooming behaviour, the assaults were a breach of trust and involved multiple occasions and victims, Bauer said.

Bauer also considered Gabona's remorse, his guilty plea, his commitment to faith and the fact that this case would not have come before the courts had he not confessed as mitigating factors.

Boguski said it's problematic that the court views Gabona's confession as a mitigating factor.

"It's a problem because Gabona is manipulative and a liar. He built a career being deceptive and a violent sex offender. Are we to accept that a man who by his own accounts underplayed his crimes is telling the truth? A twice convicted sex offender with multiple victims?"

Court heard that Gabona told the police he was probably downplaying the extent of his behaviour "given his guilt and the amount of time passed."

Rick said Darryl has paid the ultimate price for Gabona's crimes and can never fully recover from the torturous abuse he endured.

"This is a case that is not only flawed but highlights an incredibly ableist justice system where the voices of the victims seem buried beneath Brent Gabona's promise to get help and not sex offend again," Boguski said.

Al and Naomi Hawkins said Gabona committed egregious crimes and got sentenced "with a slap."

"He could have come forward in 1993, in 1998, in 2006," said Al Hawkins, who attended the hearing in Rosthern with his wife Naomi in support of Gabona's victims. "He hid this from everybody for years."

Naomi said the sentence is not fitting for a man who has "ruined hundreds of lives."

Their son Derek lived at Shepherd's Villa right next to Darryl Boguski. They say Derek could often hear Darryl in severe distress, but at the time the Hawkins didn't understand what was going on.

While Gabona has been sentenced for the crimes he has admitted, the Hawkins are still fighting for their own personal justice. They say their son Derek was a victim of Gabona, who spent years providing one-on-one care for him. They say Derek's behaviour changed drastically — for the worse — after Gabona came into his life.

Like Gabona's other victims, Derek was discharged from Shepherd's Villa because of behavioural issues. However, Gabona did not confess to abusing Derek Hawkins. The family is pushing police and other agencies to investigate further, rather than just accepting Gabona's word.

For anyone who has been sexually assaulted, there is support available through crisis lines and local support services via this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.