The Crown's decision to have Randall Hopley sentenced on a charge of abducting someone under 14 rather than kidnapping has drawn fire from Conservative MP David Wilks.
Kidnapping, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, is a more serious charge than abduction, reflecting the gravity of Mr. Hopley's offence, said Mr. Wilks, an RCMP officer for 20 years and mayor of Sparwood, B.C., until his election last year to the House of Commons.
"This is one of the more serious crimes you can commit," he said, referring to Mr. Hopley's snatching of three-year-old Kienan Hebert from his parents' home in Sparwood last September. "You take an innocent child who cannot defend himself and you take away his freedom. On top of that, the family goes through hell."
Mr. Wilks, who is pushing a private member's bill to boost prison time for child kidnappers, was critical of what he believes is a plea bargain between the Crown and Mr. Hopley.
The accused pleaded guilty earlier this week to counts of breaking and entering for the purpose of committing an indictable offence and abduction of someone under 14 years of age. The latter carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
A third charge, kidnapping, will be stayed by the Crown, Mr. Hopley's lawyer, William Thorne, advised the court.
"I'm concerned by that," Mr. Wilks said Wednesday. "I could be wrong, but it certainly looks to me as if there was a plea bargain of some sort, when you consider that abduction is the lesser of the charges."
Neither Mr. Thorne nor Crown counsel Lianna Swanson could be reached for comment.
But Victoria criminal lawyer Michael Mulligan said the Crown's decision to stay the kidnapping charge might have been based on the difficulty of proving it.
Kidnapping involves taking someone against their will, Mr. Mulligan said, and it could be that there is "a total absence of evidence that this was against the will of [the]child."
He cited the example of a youngster enticed away from his parents by a stranger's offer of candy and watching TV. "Is that against his or her will?"
In the case of the Hebert abduction, Kienan was unexpectedly returned to his family four days later, and there is no suggestion that he was harmed during his absence.
Mr. Wilks's private member's bill calls for an amendment to the Criminal Code that would establish a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for anyone convicted of kidnapping an individual under 16 years of age.
The MP for Kootenay-Columbia said Kienan's abduction motivated him to seek the change. His decision was also coloured by the disappearance 20 years ago of four-year-old Michael Dunahee and his involvement in the search for slain eight-year-old Mindy Tran.
"The intent of all these incidents was the same. It was not just to take a young kid and go play," Mr. Wilks said. "To me, a kidnapping [of someone under 16]is an act that is meant to harm the person who is being kidnapped. … It is a grave offence. When these types of events occur, they must be taken very, very seriously."
During his years with the RCMP and six years as mayor of Sparwood, Mr. Wilks was familiar with Mr. Hopley and his string of previous criminal offences.
"Randall did the right thing. He stood up, admitted to his wrong and pleaded guilty, and good on him," Mr. Wilks said. "But if you look at his record, it was getting more serious. His propensity for violence was increasing."
After Mr. Hopley's plea, Kienan's father, Paul Hebert, said he really doesn't know what would be an appropriate sentence for his crime. But he stressed that he is not interested in "gloating about his punishment."