Retired Edmonton lawyer to serve 14 years for child sex abuse

Retired Edmonton lawyer Helmut Berndt, 73, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for sexually abusing his children decades ago while they were growing up. 

“How any father could ever do such outrageous things to his own flesh and blood boggles one’s mind,” Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Earl Wilson said on Thursday afternoon. 

“Mr. Berndt got away with his crimes for decades. However, today that will end.”

The judge said he would have imposed an 18-year sentence, but lowered the number given Berndt’s advanced age. 

The Crown had sought a 15-year sentence, while the defence suggested no more than eight years.

In April, a jury found Berndt guilty on all five sex-related charges involving his two daughters and one son. The sexual abuse lasted more than a decade between 1986 and 2001. 

Justice Wilson called their victim impact statements “sad and poignant,” noting the long-term impacts of the abuse included alcohol and drug use, self-loathing, self-mutilation and years of counselling. 

From left to right, Juanita, Cedric and Lavinia in an undated family photo. (Submitted by Juanita Falkingham)

“A child looks to his or her parent for love and protection,” Wilson said in handing down his sentencing decision. “When the child is instead victimized, the child has nowhere else to go to be safe.” 

Berndt’s daughters hugged each other at the back of the courtroom following the sentencing decision. 

Outside court, they told CBC News they felt vindicated. 

“I felt like we were heard,” Juanita Falkingham, 40, said. “[The judge] listened to us and he fully believed us and wanted to set an example. I mean, it felt good.”

The sisters said Berndt showed no emotion while he was being sentenced. 

“Just nothing,” Falkingham said. “Not even anything in his eyes to say he was sorry for what he did.”

Juanita Falkingham, left, and her sister Lavinia Perreault said that the 14-year sentence imposed on their abusive father is vindication. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Their brother watched the sentencing via WebEx from Toronto. Cedric Shui said his father was similarly expressionless during the trial. 

“He almost seemed nonchalant about the whole thing,” Shui said. “Like it was a game that he was playing. He was just kind of shrugging…I don’t even know how to wrap my head around all of that.”

Shui, 38, admitted he thinks of his father now as a monster from his past, but said he’s working on moving past the pain of his childhood. 

“I want people to know that I love my life,” Shui said. “I love my wife. I love my job. I couldn’t imagine being here ten years ago and that’s how I measure where my life is at right now.” 

Before the trial began, the victims successfully applied to lift an automatic publication ban on their identities. All three said it was done to encourage others to find the strength to come forward. 

Cedric Shui watched his father sentenced via WebEx from his home in Toronto. (Janice Johnston/Google Meet)

“I hope that we can give some shred of hope for anyone else who is thinking about speaking out or who has been victimized,” Lavinia Perreault, 36, said. 

Her sister agreed. 

“There can be justice,” Falkingham said following the sentencing. 

“I mean it’s been an absolutely hard, horrible road to go through. But I am 150 per cent sure that we did the right thing. I hope it gives other people courage.”

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