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Judges now likely to get tough on Internet pedophiles
Prosecutors and child advocates predict a Supreme Court decision will spur Canadian judges to boost the shockingly low sentences often handed to pedophiles who use the Internet to sexually abuse children for fun and profit.
The high court last week slapped the maximum prison sentence on L.M. of Montreal. The father of four, who cannot be identified to protect his child, dressed his four-year-old daughter like a princess and posted close-ups of her genitals, and his sexual attacks on her, to an Internet chatroom of pedophiles.
Commenting for the first time on the punishment of Internet-related child sexual abuse, the top court raised to 15 years, from nine, the prison term imposed on L.M. for his "heinous" crimes of sexual assault and possessing, making and distributing child pornography.
"It's a huge step in the right direction -- they have basically stepped up and rewritten sentencing guidelines for child sexual abuse cases with an Internet dimension," says former Toronto Crown attorney David Butt.
Mr. Butt sees the tough sentence, combined with the judges' unusually strong denunciation of L.M.'s crimes, as a sign that Canadian courts are finally starting to recognize the special hell inhabited by children who are sexually abused in cyberspace for the gratification of pedophiles worldwide.
"The court is explicitly acknowledging that this is a new kind of abuse that continues in perpetuity ... and in many ways its level of destruction approaches homicide," said Mr. Butt, legal director for Kids Internet Safety Alliance, which works to eradicate online exploitation of children.
Police and child advocates complain that penalties imposed in Canada for juvenile porn and sexual abuse online are drastically below those of Europe, Australia and the U.S.
For example, the Ontario Crown is appealing a four-year sentence for a St. Thomas, Ont., man who sexually assaulted his daughter live online for a pedophile chatroom. He was part of an international bust of pedophiles, yet an American who committed a similar crime was sentenced to 120 years by a U.S. court, while a Dutch man got 10 years from a Netherlands court.
Unfortunately, there are no sentencing statistics specific to Internet-related child abuse and juvenile pornography available in Canada. Unpublished national data obtained by the Citizen from Statistics Canada confirms that penalties are very low for juvenile pornography offences in general (including pornography involving the Internet). In 2006-2007, for example, of the 23 people across Canada who were sentenced to jail for making or distributing child pornography -- the most serious pornography offences -- 19 people (83 per cent) were sentenced to two years or less. Nearly 70 per cent of those sentenced to jail got less than six months. (The data do not include statistics from Manitoba, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, which were unavailable).
Critics say Canada is caught in a time warp because judges base their sentences on old precedents involving isolated individuals who hoarded small caches of VCR tapes and photographs. By contrast, the child pornography industry today distributes, online and planet-wide, millions of images of sexually abused children.