Kelowna man gets nine months in jail for obstructing justice

Tayler Verhaegen convicted of contacting a witness in his robbery charge trial when he was ordered not to do so.

Kelowna Law Courts building in downtown Kelowna.

A Kelowna man facing a bank robbery charge has been given a nine month prison sentence for obstructing justice by repeatedly threatening a witness in his pending trial.

Kelowna provincial court Judge Ellen Burdett said Tayler Verhaegen was phoning and text messaging a former co-worker who testified against him at his bank robbery charge preliminary hearing.

The robbery charge related to an alleged incident in December 2014, when the Bank of Montreal at the Capri Shopping Centre was robbed by a man armed with a knife.

In recounting the court evidence related to the obstruction charge, Burdett said Verhaegen used phrases like “police seem to think you’re a rat,” “you will end up seeing me sooner or later,” and “thanks for throwing me under the bus” when contacting the witness before and after the preliminary hearing.

At the time, Verhaegen was under court order to have no contact with the man.

In a pre-sentence report done by a probation officer, Burdett revealed that Verhaegen had a difficult childhood growing up under foster or independent support living care, and struggled with learning disabilities in school.

But he overcame those challenges to complete his high school education and continue his post-secondary education in college, with the hope of continuing to university to become a lawyer.

He was also supporting himself financially by providing online rental tenancy dispute advice from his home, which the report indicated generated a “sizeable income.”

The report also indicated that Verhaegen faced mental health challenges, which contributed to a “lack of understanding about the (obstruction) charges against him.”

“He is at a level of risk in stressful situations and is currently under no treatment to minimize those risks,” said Burdett in reciting the report’s findings to the court.

The report also indicated Verhaegen was hesitant to be totally forthright about his mental health issues for fear any evidence from his files could be used against him in the robbery trial, set to be heard sometime in 2017.

Burdett cited the sentencing in past cases submitted by both the Crown and defense lawyer which resulted in 18 month jail sentences to reinforce the integrity of the justice process.

“This is a serious offense against the community at large and needs to be treated as such in sentencing,” Burdett said.

Verhaegen has been in custody for the past 21 days and will get time and half from that counted towards his nine month sentence.