London Community News
By Paul Everest/London Community News/Twitter: @PaulEverest1
Dan MacLellan pleaded guilty Thursday (Aug. 9) to the Christmas Eve, 2011, assault of a woman with whom he was in a relationship with at the time.
The former CTV London news anchor was not punished, however, as a judge decided to grant an absolute discharge as a sentence.
MacLellan, 38, and the woman with whom he had an on-and-off relationship with since 2010, became involved in an argument at the woman’s home on Dec. 24 over MacLellan’s drinking and the couple’s Christmas plans, the court heard.
At about 10:10 p.m. that night, the woman went to her bedroom and was facedown on her bed when MacLellan grabbed her arm and shook her.
The woman kicked MacLellan away and left the bedroom for the living room, where MacLellan threw her onto a couch and then onto the floor before applying a headlock to the woman.
At that point, the woman screamed for her neighbours to call 911.
When MacLellan fled, the woman was able to call police and MacLellan was later arrested at his home.
He was originally charged with four counts of assault stemming from the incident and left his position at CTV in March to focus on his court case.
MacLellan joined the CTV London team in 2002 as a co-anchor for the 6 p.m. broadcast and had anchored the news solo from 2008 to the time of his arrest.
MacLellan’s lawyer, Gord Cudmore, told the court the factors behind the attack were alcohol and “anger management” issues.
He added MacLellan voluntarily enrolled in rehabilitation programs for alcohol and anger management after his arrest and had moved back to his home province of Nova Scotia earlier this year.
Cudmore also said MacLellan is continuing to work through his issues and has gone back to school to major in psychology.
He went on to tell the court MacLellan was a victim of physical abuse at the hands of his stepfather when he was younger.
“We all live with our own demons,” Cudmore said. “Sometimes we are able to identify a source.”
Based on these points, Cudmore asked Judge Gregory Pockele to hand MacLellan an absolute discharge, which means that MacLellan, although he pleaded guilty, would not be convicted of the assault charge and records of his arrest and charges would be removed from police databases within one year.
MacLellan then addressed the court, quoting a line from a play about finding wisdom through pain and saying he is in the process of “making amends” for his actions.
“I am sorry for the pain that I have caused,” he said.
Admitting responsibility for his actions, MacLellan also said he felt blessed to be in the company of people who were guiding him through the “fog” of the many challenges in his life.
Pockele said he felt it was “meaningful” that MacLellan had made the rare move of apologizing in the courtroom for his actions.
He agreed to the sentence of an absolute discharge and said defence counsel and the Crown had jointly requested such a sentence.
Although MacLellan did not speak to media outside the courtroom, Cudmore told reporters he felt the absolute discharge sentence was appropriate given the successful efforts MacLellan had made to address his problems with alcohol and anger.
“The ends of justice are served by an absolute discharge. There’s no need for him to be burdened with a criminal record or to be sentenced to any terms that would be involved in a probation or conditional discharge.”
When asked if MacLellan’s position as a head news anchor for a major media outlet had any bearing on the judge’s decision, Cudmore said he believed MacLellan would have received the same sentence regardless of who he was.
“I think the Crown, and quite appropriately, treated him as they would any other individual caught in this and that justice was served in the court. Whether it was served outside the court, I’m not sure,” he said. “I’m not minimizing the offence, but most people that are charged with this type of offence and would receive a discharge and take the courses don’t lose their careers and their livelihoods as a result of it. He did.
“And I think that’s problematic. It’s unfortunate when the very fact of being charged costs you your job.”
Cudmore also said that along with “successfully” completing programs and courses relating to alcohol and anger issues, MacLellan “has been asked and has agreed to act as a facilitator on an ongoing basis for other people with the same problems.”
“It’s been a very difficult ordeal for him, as you can imagine. He has paid a tremendous price for it,” he said. “He took ownership for his part in this and the problems that he’s had. He’s dealt with them in a very mature fashion and hopefully he can now move and get on with his life.”
As for when MacLellan chose to plead guilty, Cudmore said that decision was made months ago, but time was needed to complete the rehabilitation programs and courses.
Some people in the community, however, have already criticized MacLellan’s sentence as too light given the attack was a case of domestic violence and there are questions about why he waited so long to plead guilty.
“It is the victim who has suffered months of public slayings and stress. Why wait until now to plead guilty?” tweeted Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre. “(Domestic violence) isn't from anger (management) or (alcohol). Because of power and control. Could have plead guilty months ago and saved victim stress.”
But Cudmore said it was hoped pleading guilty, instead of launching a potentially lengthy trial, would spare the victim from more stress and pain.
“One of the things that we all recognize in this business and I think, clearly, Dan did, is you don’t want to put the person who was the victim of the abuse through a trial. You try to save them that problem if that’s possible.”
A non-association order was issued after MacLellan’s arrest preventing him from seeing the victim, who was not in court on Thursday.
She did file a victim impact statement, however, although it was not read in court at her request.