A former Edmonton flower shop owner will spend the next three years in prison for having illegal sexual contact with a pair of teenage boys.
Majed Zetouni pleaded guilty last week to two counts of invitation to sexual touching. He wept in the prisoner’s box as the Crown read an agreed statement of facts in Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench.
Crown prosecutor Courtney Mah said both victims are Syrian refugees who came with their families to Canada in 2015. The boys were 13 and 14 years old when they got to know Zetouni, the owner of Flowers by Mark in Northgate Centre. The store is now listed as permanently closed.
“They would often visit him in the flower shop and even helped him in the store,” Mah said.
In the summer of 2017, Zetouni took one boy into the back room of his shop and had him perform a sexual act. The boy continued to visit the flower shop and the sexual acts continued for more than two months. On multiple occasions, the older boy brought his younger friend to the shop, where Zetouni convinced the boys to perform sexual acts on him and on each other.
“Sometimes after the incidents, the accused provided the boys cigarettes and told them not to tell anyone,” Mah told the court.
The older boy told a doctor about the incidents in November 2017. Police obtained a video statement from the teen with the help of an Arabic speaking police officer.
Zetouni, 54, was arrested on Nov. 28, 2017, and was originally charged with three counts each of sexual assault, sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching.
The remaining charges were stayed after he pleaded guilty to two counts of invitation to sexual touching.
“The accused knew or ought to have known that the boys were under the age of 16 and were not capable of consenting to the sexual acts,” the Crown said.
The boys were not in court to hear the guilty pleas and did not file victim impact statements.
‘Remorseful and ashamed’
Zetouni’s lawyer told the court his client came to Canada in 2003 and is a Canadian citizen who has been employed for most of his adult life.
“He is remorseful and ashamed of what occurred,” Mark Jordan said. “He feels terrible about what the complainants in this case went through. He also feels terrible for what he’s put his family through.”
The court was told Zetouni and his wife separated in 2015 and his two children live with their mother.
His family became aware of the charges after police issued a news release that included his photo.
“He tells me that his father had open heart surgery after he learned the charges his son was facing,” Jordan told the judge. “He tells me that his children have had issues with members of the cultural community who are aware of his arrest. Mr. Zetouni tells me he was also threatened while in custody immediately after his arrest.”
Accused wanted publication ban on his name
Zetouni was originally scheduled to enter his guilty pleas on Dec. 2, but changed his mind when he saw a journalist in the courtroom. Jordan told Justice Brian Burrows his client wanted to request a publication ban, so his name would not appear in the media.
The application for the publication ban was supposed to be heard on Friday. CBC News hired a lawyer to oppose the application, but right before the hearing Zetouni changed his mind.
“Mr. Zetouni’s original desire to pursue a publication ban in this case was mostly in order to protect his family, rather than himself,” Jordan said. “He respects freedom of the press to report as they wish, which is why he has instructed me to abandon the application.”
When Zetouni was given a chance to address the court before he was sentenced, he asked the judge through an interpreter to keep the media from reporting the story, for the sake of his family.
“I don’t have any ability to affect what might be published,” Burrows said, before accepting a joint sentencing submission from the Crown and defence for three years in prison.