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Get tough on sex offenders who use Internet to lure children, Ont. court says

Ontario judges should impose tougher sentences on sex offenders who seduce children on the Internet, the Court of Appeal for Ontario has ruled, telling lower courts that keeping those predators locked away should take precedence over rehabilitation.

The appellate court sent the message Monday in a decision involving the relatively new crime of using a computer to lure a child.

The appellate court's decision upheld a 6½-year sentence against Thomas Woodward, a convicted fraudster who in 2006 befriended a 12-year-old girl on a cellphone chat room. The girl, whose parents had financial problems, agreed to have sex with Mr. Woodward after he promised that he would wire her $200-million.

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"While . . . the offender's prospects for rehabilitation will always warrant consideration, the objectives of denunciation, deterrence, and the need to separate sexual predators from society for society's well-being and the well-being of our children must take precedence," Mr. Justice Michael Moldaver wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.

The crime of luring, which came in force in 2002, had a maximum sentence of five years at the time of Mr. Woodward's offence. Since 2007, the maximum punishment for luring is now ten years.

Mr. Woodward was sentenced to five years for sexual assault and received another 1½ years for luring the girl.

Another previous luring case, involving Toronto resident Kevin Jarvis, had established that luring sentences should typical range between one and two years, Mr. Woodward's defence argued in appeal.

Defence lawyer Tina Yuen cited the cases of Woodbridge high school teacher Terrence Lithgow, who got a one-year conditional sentence for luring, and Ernest Robinson, another teacher who also seduced students online and got a one-year jail sentence.

Judge Moldaver thought, however, that the two teachers got off easy.

"I do not believe that the price paid in Robinson or Lithgow was a heavy one. Indeed I believe that the sentences in those cases were manifestly inadequate," he wrote.

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Moreover, he said that harsher measures are required because of the likelihood that cyber-luring is becoming increasingly more common.

"If it is shown through the introduction of properly-tendered evidence that the offence of luring has become a pervasive social problem," he wrote, "I believe that much stiffer sentences, in the range of three to five years, might well be warranted."

The judge instead agreed with Crown attorney Kimberley Crosbie that the sentencing philosophy should be based on a previous ruling he penned in 2002, R. v D.D.

D.D. was an Ontario man who got an eight-year sentence for repeatedly engaging in sex acts with four young boys over whom he had a position of trust.

While the case didn't involve computers, it established the principle that, because children are particularly vulnerable targets, the courts should give precedence to denunciation and deterrence over rehabilitation when deciding a sentence, Judge Moldaver wrote.

"Adult predators who seduce and violate young children must face the prospect of a significant penitentiary term," he wrote.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

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