LETHBRIDGE, Alta. - A former bishop of a Mormon church in southern Alberta has been sentenced to five years in prison for multiple sexual assaults on two young girls in the 1980s and 90s.

Marvin Ross Harker, 52, was convicted in December of two counts of sexual assault.

Lethbridge Court of Queen's Bench heard the abuse took place from 1986 and 1993, when the victims were between the ages of eight and 13, near the hamlet of Diamond City.

Harker was a bishop with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the nearby town of Raymond when allegations were made against him in 2016. He was removed from his role.

"They are crimes of violence. The victims were young ... both girls were sexually innocent and the commission of these offences at a time they were unable to understand what was happening to them has had life long consequences," Justice Johnna Kubik said during sentencing Thursday.

"The offences committed against the victims in this case are grave offences characterized by repeated, major sexual assaults."

At the request of the Crown and the victims, Kubik removed a publication ban on Harker's identity.

Kubik said Harker was between 18 and 19 years of age when the assaults began and he blamed an introduction to pornography for his "distorted" behaviour toward females.

"The assaults involved a pattern of abuse and occurred with such frequency that they became normalized for the victims. These were not rash acts," Kubik told the court.

"Additionally, during the trial, Mr. Harker agreed that by virtue of his upbringing and religious faith he knew that what he was doing was wrong."

A psychiatric report noted that Harker is at a low risk to reoffend but aggravating factors include his extreme minimization or denial of sexual violence. It recommended his access to places with children under the age of 16 be restricted.

Kubik said Harker had lived an exemplary life over the 33 years since the assaults, but his moral blameworthiness is high. She said the victims have expressed a lifetime of anxiety, guilt and belief that they are morally unclean.

"On the basis of all of the facts in this case, I am satisfied a period of imprisonment is required to ensure a fit and just sentence."

The Crown had asked for a sentence of between five and seven years. The defence had recommended a suspended or conditional sentence.

The judge sentenced Harker to 24 months on one of the charges and 36 months on the other, to be served consecutively, for a total of five years.

Kubik also ordered Harker to submit his DNA and have his name added to the national sex offender registry.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Sept. 17, 2020

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

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