A Newfoundland man has been found not guilty of possessing child pornography after a judge determined it was not proven he knew the sex doll he ordered was child-sized.
Judge Mark Pike said he accepted expert testimony that the doll was child pornography, and said that Kenneth Harrisson’s stated reasons for ordering it did not ring true.
But the judge concluded the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Harrisson knew what was in the box delivered to his St. John’s home in 2013.
During the provincial court trial, Harrisson testified that he meant to order a lifelike, adult-sized sex doll for companionship to replace his son, who died in infancy decades earlier.
Pike said Thursday said Harrisson’s explanation was far-fetched, but he was left with too many doubts about what Harrisson saw on the web page the day he ordered it.
“The reason offered by Harrisson for ordering the doll is incredible and doesn’t make sense to me, however this does not mean that the Crown has met the burden of proof,” Pike said on Thursday.
“I must ensure that I don’t confuse the question of who to believe with the question of whether there’s reasonable doubt.”
The unusual case has been working its way through the courts for years. It is believed to be the first trial in Canada dealing with child pornography charges involving a sex doll.
The case was poised to set a precedent around what constitutes child pornography when no real child is involved.
Harrisson, 54, was found not guilty of possessing child pornography and mailing obscene material. He was also acquitted on two charges under the federal Customs Act of smuggling and possession of prohibited goods.
Harrisson had ordered the doll from Japan in 2013, but it was intercepted on its way to his St. John’s home.
Harrisson had testified that he did a Google search of the term “sex doll” and chose the photo that showed the most “male-like” face to resemble his son who would have been around 25 in 2013.
He said the doll delivered to his home was not what he ordered because he meant to order an adult doll named “Carol.” He said he did not intend to have sex with the doll.
A Crown lawyer argued in closing submissions that the doll delivered was three-dimensional child pornography.
Canada’s Criminal Code defines child pornography as “a photographic, film, video or other visual representation, whether or not it was made by electronic or mechanical means” that shows a person who is, or depicted as being, under 18 years old engaged in explicit sexual activity.
Pike said Thursday he accepted the evidence from forensic psychiatrist Peter Collins, who testified in 2017 that the doll was “prepubescent” and was advertised as child pornography.
Pike said the item met the criminal code definition, but said criminal possession comes down to knowledge.
Much of Collins’ testimony hinged on the way the dolls were advertised online, on a website that sold adult and childlike sex dolls. Pike said Thursday that there was no evidence presented as to whether the web page Harrisson viewed was the same one viewed by the police and Collins.
Pike said the fact that Harrisson offered his computer for a police search but one was never carried out made it impossible to determine what he saw on the website, how he came across the product or what he meant to order.
“A search was never carried out, so it cannot be determined by examining the computer he used by which the process by which the doll was ordered and whether he at any time knew the child doll was displayed with crucial descriptors that formed the doll’s characterization as child pornography.”
Pike noted that the doll delivered to Harrisson’s home did not exactly match any of the dolls on the Japanese website, though it most closely resembled the dolls marketed as children.
He said Harrisson’s actions around the time of ordering the doll were inconsistent with how a guilty person would typically act, as he used his own name on the order and was co-operative with police.
The judge said these inconsistencies raised doubts of Harrisson’s guilt.
Harrisson was silent but smiling as he left the court with his legal team.
Outside court, defence lawyer Bob Buckingham described the six-year long case as a “long, drawn-out battle” that has been stressful and draining on his client. Harrisson collapsed on the stand during his testimony.
“Mr. Harrisson wishes to say he is relieved that this matter is over with and that his advice to people is to be careful as to what you order online,” Buckingham said with Harrisson by his side on Thursday.
Buckingham said Collins’ evidence has made people judge Harrisson without knowing the full story, and he criticized Pike for not detailing the reasons why he accepted Collins’ evidence.
“This decision provides no assistance in further decisions down the road. None at all,” Buckingham said. “This decision was decided on the basis of possession and the law with respect to possession, as opposed to whether it met … the definition of child pornography itself.”
Linda Beaudoin, a self-described advocate for children who travelled from Ontario for the judgment, engaged Buckingham in a heated back-and-forth as the lawyer spoke with reporters, asking Buckingham if he “had ever been called a pedophile sympathizer.”
Buckingham called her comments an insult and said she showed “a lack of understanding about defence counsel” and his legal career.
“He’s an innocent man of the charges,” Buckingham said of Harrisson at the end of the exchange.