The law will no longer shield pedophiles who groom children over the Internet, the Supreme Court of Canada said yesterday in a ruling that moves Canada to the forefront of an international battle to stamp out online child exploitation.
The court said that it will be possible to convict a suspect of luring even if a case lacks evidence of an attempt to rendezvous with an intended victim.
"We are hailing this as a groundbreaking decision," said Roz Prober, president of Beyond Borders, a Winnipeg-based group that fights child exploitation. "Other countries around the world have not gone this far in their grooming legislation. This certainly puts us at the forefront of international child rights law."
The court ordered a new trial for Bartholomew Legare of Alberta, who was accused of engaging in two lewd online chats with a 12-year-old Ontario girl on April 28, 2003. Mr. Legare, 32, was acquitted of two luring offences on the basis that there was no proof he had tried to meet the child.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court warned that narrow, legalistic interpretations of luring offences can only damage attempts to keep the Internet a safe place for children to roam.
"This is in keeping with Parliament's objective to close the cyberspace door before the predator gets in to prey," Mr. Justice Morris Fish wrote. "The Internet is an open door to knowledge, entertainment, communication - and exploitation."
The case called for the court to interpret what it means for an accused person to "facilitate" meeting a minor for a sexual purpose.
Mr. Legare had first communicated with the girl online. After some preliminary chat, he asked her to e-mail her photo to him. After she made two unsuccessful attempts to do so, Mr. Legare asked for her phone number so that they could "talk dirty."
"He was true to his word," Judge Fish said. "He called immediately afterward and, in the second of two conversations, told the complainant - in coarse and explicit language - that he 'would love' to perform oral sex on her. The complainant hung up and there were no further calls."
Judge Fish said that Mr. Legare's actions laid bare his plans. "Those who use their computers to lure children for sexual purposes often groom them online by first gaining their trust through conversations about their home life, their personal interests or other innocuous topics," he said. "Sexually explicit comments may suffice to establish the criminal purpose of the accused.
"The offender need not meet or intend to meet the victim with a view to committing any of the specified secondary offences," Judge Fish added.
Ms. Prober said that the ruling will prove invaluable in helping to trap pedophiles before they are able to move from the planning and grooming stages into actually consummating an assault.
"Children are entitled to make mistakes on the Internet," she said. "They are looking for boyfriends and to break away from parents and establish relationships. This is such an easy way for those with a sexual interest in children to become involved with them."