Lorne Gunter: Lahey does easy time thanks to Canada’s lax child porn laws

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The National Post

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06 January 2012

  Jan 6, 2012 – 12:43 PM ET | Last Updated: Jan 6, 2012 12:51 PM ET

PAT McGRATH--THE OTTAWA CITIZEN

PAT McGRATH–THE OTTAWA CITIZEN

Former Catholic bishop Raymond Lahey was released after just eight months in jail on charges of possessing child pornography.

The fact that former Nova Scotia Catholic bishop Raymond Lahey is again free from jail is an outrage. That he spent just eight months in custody for possessing violent child pornography is appalling, not so much for what it says about our legal system, but for what it says about the low priority we as a society place on protecting our children from sexual predators.

It’s hard to find flaws in the strict legal reasoning employed by Ontario Court Justice Kent Kirkland, who decided Wednesday to release Mr. Lahey on time served. The disgraced cleric had been in jail since pleading guilty last May.

Lahey showed genuine contrition for his actions. He told the court Tuesday, before his sentence was handed down,  “I know I’ve done wrong, not only something illegal, but something that goes against the moral principles I believe in.” And he promised to use his notoriety to encourage others with pedophilic desires to seek help, “not just because this is something illegal, but because ultimately it is unhealthy, because it destroys relationships, and above all, where it involves pictures and stories of children, because it causes genuine harm to them.”

In a purely legal sense, Mr. Justice Kirkland was also right to dismiss the Crown prosecutors’ contention that the court deal more harshly with Lahey because he was in a “trust position” within society. The trust-position provision in Canada sexual-assault laws covers only those offenders in positions of trust over their victims. And since Lahey is not accused of having molested or taken pictures of any of the young boys whose photos were found on his computer in 2009, Judge Kirkland concluded that trust-position concerns do not apply in this case and, therefore, could not be used to lengthen the bishop’s sentence.

Even his decision to give Lahey double credit for the time already served was technically sound. In the past, offenders who agreed to go to jail after pleading guilty, but before being sentenced, were typically given two-for-one credit for every month they served. Nearly two years ago, the federal Tories eliminated that practice. But since Lahey’s offences occurred before the law had been changed, he was still granted  double the time served. So when he sentenced Lahey to 15 months, the judge was able to release him even though he had served just eight.

But if  Mr. Justice Kirkland adhered closely to the law, then the law is the problem. If the law permits someone who takes perverse pleasure from the sexual torture of children to walk away after just eight months, then it needs to be changed.

Lahey possessed hundreds of imagines of teen and pre-teen boys engaging in sex acts that included bondage and sadomasochism. Perhaps that’s not as bad a crime as actually participating in such acts. But somewhere along the line in producing the imagines the bishop had saved on his hard drive, underage boys were terrorized – their innocence and psyches destroyed – so perverts such as Lahey could derive sexual stimulation from viewing their pain and suffering.

If Lahey cannot be sent away for more than a few months for contributing to the brutalization of minors, even indirectly, then Canadian law needs to be changed so that future Raymond Laheys can be sentenced to more time behind bars. Child pornography exists in large measure because there is a market for it. The buyers are very much responsible for it being made and sold. To protect endangered species from poaching, Canada has made the purchase and possession of endangered-animal products nearly as great an offense as killing the animals is. Why can’t we do something similar to the purchasers of pornographic images of children, especially violent images?

What consenting adults do with or to one another is none of the courts’ concern. But children are incapable of offering informed consent. They must be protected from those who would use and abuse them. And if the courts cannot do that with the laws we have today, then Parliament must get busy and beef up the law.

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