Enough is enough: incurable pedophiles like Peter Whitmore are repeatedly freed from jail to prey on our children again and again and again. Isn't it time we stopped them?
When he was released again in 2000, it was only a month before he lured a 13-year-old boy up to a seedy Toronto hotel room. He was returned to prison for breaching his probation order (not, remarkably, for kidnapping a child with the intent of raping him).
Out again in 2002, he was caught with a five-year-old boy. He avoided arrest only by leaving Ontario and moving to B.C. When police finally picked him up, he was carrying a so-called "rape kit" in his backpack--latex gloves, lubricant, duct tape and plastic ties that could be used as handcuffs. He was given three years for violating his probation.
As Canadians are all too aware, the long string of predatory sexual attacks on children--followed by short, ineffectual prison sentences--are merely the initial chapters in the horrific tale of Peter Whitmore. The latest developments would become this summer's most sensational crime story. The consequences of this sordid saga won't end in a prairie courtroom this fall, when the justice system, yet again, tries to deal with this man. They will be felt in Ottawa, too. Justice Minister Vic Toews says nothing could more strongly buttress the Conservative government's intention to toughen dangerous-offender legislation than the revolving-door treatment of a serial pedophile, most recently arrested on August 1, at an abandoned Saskatchewan farm, where he had kidnapped and sexually abused yet another two boys. "It will give us more authority to move ahead with changes to dangerous-offender legislation," Toews says of the circumstances surrounding the Whitmore case. "It helps to focus the argument as to why our commitment to change the law in respect to dangerous offenders, and specifically sex offenders, is important."
The Whitmore case will likely do that and much more. For as the details of the pederast's apparently lax and haphazard treatment at the hands of the justice system became public in late July, it became clear to many observers, Toews included, that something was seriously amiss--not just in the way child predators are sentenced, but also in the manner in which they are tracked and controlled once they finish serving their time in jail. With the ongoing release into the community of dangerous pedophiles, who as a group are known to be both difficult to cure and at high risk of reoffending, solving these interrelated problems has become the justice system's most urgent matter.
Just days before Whitmore had abducted his most recent victim, another sexual criminal was being tried in Victoria. But Jacob Tree did not prey on children. His victims were two teenagers. On July 28, Tree was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A few weeks earlier, in June, an Alberta man--Donald Kiyo Pearson of Airdrie--was handed five years for raping a Calgary prostitute and another Calgary woman. In December, Dana Joel Pelletier of Calgary was sentenced to six years for raping a woman who was staying with him. All three received harsher sentences than Whitmore ever did. It's not hard to see that Canada's justice system tends to go lighter on those who rape little children than on those who rape adults--though it's hard for some of us to see why.
After all, a close analysis of statistics shows that many pedophiles--most, in fact--continue to prey on children after they're out of prison. "A large majority, perhaps the vast majority, of pedophiles can't be cured," John Muise of the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness and a former Toronto police officer recently told Toronto's CityNews. "They have the need and the urge to be with young children. So the best thing we can do in the bluntest of terms to ensure public safety is to lock them up for as long as possible."
Whitmore could barely contain himself for more than a few days or weeks. Not that he had any intention of controlling himself. He seems perfectly content to be a child rapist. While in prison in B.C., Whitmore refused treatment for his deviant sexual tendencies, explaining he "did not want to stop the fantasies [he had] towards male children," according to a National Parole Board document written in 2004. The document further noted that Whitmore had described his young victims as "willing participants." More troubling still, the board determined he had a "100 per cent probability of recidivism over seven and 10 years, respectively."
Authorities were evidently powerless when Whitmore's most recent prison sentence expired in June 2005, other than to slap strict conditions on him before setting him free. Those conditions, imposed under Section 810 of the Criminal Code, compelled him, among other things, to report regularly to the RCMP, to have no contact with anyone under the age of 18 unless approved by a probation officer, and to be at home between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
None of it did any good once those conditions lapsed on June 12 of this year and B.C. authorities refrained from renewing them. Chilliwack Crown counsel Gregg Goodfellow explained to the press that Whitmore had simply told police that he was moving to Alberta, so officials simply notified authorities in that province and left it to them to institute new orders. In reality, Whitmore was essentially freed to wreak more havoc. He presented himself to a surprised RCMP officer in Morinville, Alta., on June 15 (he wasn't expected), and police then started the process of imposing new conditions on the ex-con. Not surprisingly, relying on the honour system proved insufficient: Whitmore failed to show up for a court date on June 29.
Only after a 10-year-old Whitewood, Sask., boy was abducted a month later, did police issue a Canada-wide warrant for Whitmore's arrest on July 31. The boy also became the subject of the country's first nationwide Amber Alert, which triggered a massive public awareness campaign to locate the missing child. Police revealed that Whitmore was known to be travelling with a 14-year-old boy from Brandon, Man., who had last been seen a week earlier.
Police tracked the three to an abandoned farm near Kipling, Sask., thanks to a citizen's tip, and arrested Whitmore just before midnight on Aug. 1, following a 10-hour standoff. He is now charged with kidnapping and "numerous sexual assaults" against the boys. Police in Newfoundland are also examining Whitmore's activities in that province, after it was revealed he lived for a week in June in the community of Topsail.
But the fact that Whitmore is back in custody should provide little more than the immediate relief that the two boys he kidnapped were not murdered--as is the fate of so many children preyed upon by pedophiles. It may not even be that long before he's out on the streets again: Whitmore apparently surrendered to the RCMP only after being promised that the Crown would not seek a life sentence or dangerous-offender designation that would keep him behind bars indefinitely; he has since agreed to plead guilty, which would spare the boys from testifying, only if the Crown keeps to the bargain (Saskatchewan's justice minister has said that offers made by police have no binding power on the Crown's prosecution). But while Peter Whitmore may be the most notorious pederast in the country today, an investigation by the Western Standard shows that there are many more Peter Whitmores at large--men with a long history of sexual attacks on children, rotated in and out of prison, but now living free. And if recidivism statistics are any indication, it's only a matter of time before most of them prey on another child.
During the first seven months of this year alone, jails discharged at least 10 men who pose such a risk to children that police took the extraordinary step of warning the public of their presence in the community (see sidebar). "It is absolutely insane," says child-victim advocate Chris Danielson, founder of Put Kids First, and a Surrey, B.C., mother of three. "You know, when a bear or a cougar comes down from the mountain into our city, everybody panics because it's a predator and they're a danger to us. And they remove it, lock it up or they shoot it. Now, what is the difference between these sexual predators and those animals, except for the fact that we can't even recognize them because they look like you and me?" Can something more be done to protect Canada's children from these marauders? Absolutely. But that only raises a more important question: why aren't we doing it?
The former Liberal government established a national sex offender registry on Dec. 15, 2004, but it's of limited help. The registry contains the names of only those who were convicted after its implementation, not of potentially dangerous offenders who had previously been convicted and might now be in the community. Besides, only police and justice officials have access to the registry; concerned parents who want to be aware of predators in their neighbourhood, are barred from viewing it.
The provinces of Manitoba and Alberta have easily accessible Internet databases on which photographs and biographies of paroled or discharged violent offenders of all sorts can be viewed. In early August, for example, Alberta's contained details on 74 ex-cons. On the other hand, despite being responsible for the bulk of municipal policing in all provinces and territories outside of Quebec and Ontario, the RCMP maintains no central, online database of ex-cons about whom it has already warned the public. Sergeant Sylvie Tremblay, a spokesperson at the Mounties' national headquarters in Ottawa, says persons curious about sex offenders at large in their communities would have to seek the information at divisional websites; but this magazine's investigation shows that those sites maintain no central area where warnings are saved.
Speaking by phone following a federal Conservative party caucus meeting in Cornwall, Ont., on Aug. 4, Justice Minister Toews says he is not sure whether he or his cabinet colleague, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, has the authority simply to order the RCMP to start collating and saving all their public releases. "It's something that Stockwell Day and I will discuss," he says. "I'm aware of the fundamental problem of inaccessibility of this kind of important information. When something is public, why isn't it more accessible? That is something we need to look at."
Similarly, the minister wants to ensure that different jurisdictions can better share information about known offenders at large in the community. "At a minimum," he says, "we should be looking at accessibility to information, the same way we have accessibility to CPIC," the Canadian Police Information Centre, a computerized database maintained by the RCMP.
Any reform of information-sharing or public-warning systems would be only one part of wider reforms that Toews envisions. The Conservative government has already introduced a bill, C-9, to eliminate "conditional sentencing" (more popularly known as house arrest) for violent and sexual offenders. And Toews now says he wants to move ahead with amendments to the Criminal Code to make it easier for prosecutors to designate offenders as dangerous, and thus keep them behind bars indefinitely.
The Tory plan, which was part of its "stand up for security" platform during last winter's federal election campaign, calls for criminals to be presumed to be "dangerous" if they have been convicted and sentenced to federal custody for three violent or sexual offences. The Tories also promised to require registration of all convicted sex offenders and to compel them to supply a DNA sample. But Toews says that, before introducing dangerous-offender legislation, federal officials need to examine why attorneys general in each province maintain different criteria in applying existing dangerous-offender laws.
The question is especially relevant to pedophiles because of the high likelihood they will reoffend after serving their sentences. An August 1996 study for Correctional Service Canada found that pedophiles had the highest rate of sexual recidivism among all sexual offenders; about one in 10 reoffended after just three and a half years. However, author Michael Harris, a critic of Canada's prison and parole system, has written that official rates grossly underestimate pedophiles' true recidivism rate, by sampling from only within short time frames and among pedophiles incarcerated within federal prisons. Harris has noted that a May 1996 CSC report found that, if tracked for up to 30 years, sex criminals whose targets were male children had a recidivism rate of 77 per cent, meaning eight out of every 10 pedophiles released from prison after their first offence will attack again.
It should be obvious, then, that temporary imprisonment is no solution. But Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd says research indicates that of all the people charged with sexual offences--including crimes against adults--only 15 per cent were previous sex offenders. That's why he doesn't think an open register of all sex offenders will do much to protect the public. "The science just doesn't support the idea that these are people who are inevitably likely to reoffend, as traumatic as the crime they commit may be," Boyd says. But there is one exception, he notes: pedophiles--who repeatedly offend at significantly higher rates. "So, maybe we need to look much more carefully at pedophiles," he says, perhaps placing the names of all sex offenders who have been violent towards children, on an offender registry.
Victims' advocate Steve Sullivan, president of the Canadian Centre for the Victims of Crime, is all for more public sex-offender registries, especially detailing the movements of ex-cons about whom the police have explicitly warned the public. "There shouldn't be any privacy issues," he says. Beyond that, the big lesson he takes from the Whitmore case is that the justice system needs a serious overhaul. "I think we have to design a system where, if we know someone is going to reoffend, with 100 per cent certainty, we don't let him out," Sullivan says. "To release somebody who we know is going to go out and find another kid to victimize is just--I don't even know what the word is; it's almost like executing someone we're pretty sure is innocent. We're really complicit in creating new victims by doing that. So the big question is, how do you design a system that protects children from people we know are going to be a risk?"
Laws to impose lengthy mandatory minimum sentences, such as the ones the Tories have already proposed for gun crimes and street racing, might be considered. And B.C. Crown counsel Goodfellow's statements also appear to indicate that a national system is needed to co-ordinate recognizance orders under Section 810 of the Criminal Code.
Toews has now made his priorities clear. But he has to balance those with issues of fundamental justice: the presumption of innocence, and the legal tradition that once a convict has paid his debt to society he should be free. As always in any difficult public policy question, there's no perfect solution. But, as the case of chronic child abuser Peter Whitmore is leading Canadians to conclude, just about anything would be better than the current system.
RELATED ARTICLE: CANADA'S LEAST WANTED
Once a convicted pedophile has served his sentence, he's free to re-enter the community. But research (and experience) shows that prison will have had little or no deterrent effect, and that he is likely to reoffend. To protect kids, police must rely on community alerts, issued whenever a predator moves into an area. These are some of the dangerous and serial pedophiles that police have warned are being released into unlucky Canadian communities in just the last few months:
DALE OSWALD, 33
CURRENT ADDRESS: TORONTO
Oswald, who stands six-foot-seven and weighs 350 pounds, is a chronic offender who reportedly suffers from bipolar, antisocial and schizophrenic disorders. He once told a judge he was "addicted to the taste of young boys. The taste is better than anything I've ever tasted." Crown counsel Amy Bakin warned in 2004: "He likely poses a high risk to reoffend sexually, including against children."
ROBERT CRAIG, 45
CURRENT ADDRESS: MAPLE RIDGE, B.C.
Craig was charged in January 2005 for sexually assaulting a minor. In June, Ridge-Meadows RCMP Corp. Bernie Smandych issued this unsettling warning: "We have an open, ongoing investigation dealing with him but we have reached a point in the investigation where we were obligated to warn the public." He would add no detail, but did confirm that authorities are concerned Craig may harm another child.
WILLIAM SLATER, 27
CURRENT ADDRESS: EDMONTON
When Slater finished a two-and-a-half-year sentence for sexual offences involving children in June, police warned that he "is considered by police to be a sexual offender whose criminal history includes sexual assault and sexual interference ... Slater clearly poses a risk of significant harm to the community in general and to male and female children specifically."
JAMES JASPER, 29
CURRENT ADDRESS: WINNIPEG
Though Jasper--who was released Jan. 23, following a 26-month sentence for sexual interference against a 10-year-old boy--has participated in treatment programs and will be under long-term supervision, police have said he "is considered a high risk to reoffend ... Children, particularly young boys, are at risk of sexual violence."
MORRIS WILSON, 52
CURRENT ADDRESS: VANCOUVER
In spite of a Corrections Canada assessment that had determined Wilson was "a high risk to reoffend against children," he was released in June, after completing his most recent sentence. In total, Wilson's been convicted seven times on sex-related charges, all against boys aged 4 to 12.
PAUL JENKINS, 58
CURRENT ADDRESS: PETERBOROUGH, ON
Police have warned that Jenkins represents a high risk to reoffend. Be "on your guard," said Chief Terry McLaren. "He is a threat to prepubescent males." Jenkins' record includes convictions for indecent assault on a male, sexual assault, and buying sex from a person under 18.
WILLIAM LEADLEY, 35
CURRENT ADDRESS: SUDBURY, ON
Currently on parole, police issued a warning in July that Leadley's a "high-risk sex offender." In 1996, he was convicted of sexually assaulting three young boys in his apartment. In 2000, he was jailed for molesting two 13-year-old boys in St. Catharines, Ont. In January 2005, Leadley was jailed for using the Internet to try to lure a 13-year-old girl for sex in Hamilton.
STEVEN MEWHORT, 33
CURRENT ADDRESS: WESTMINSTER, B.C.
When Mewhort completed a two-year prison term in July on two convictions of sexual interference, cops warned: "His target victim group includes male and female children between the ages of 3 and 18." He must not have contact with any person under the age of 16 and is not allowed within 100 metres of playgrounds, schools, recreation centres, day cares, arcades, swimming pools, movie theatres where children's movies are being shown, or restaurants with children's playrooms. It didn't matter: after just five days of freedom, Mewhort was arrested in early August for molesting a child at a Surrey, B.C., retail store.
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|Article Type:||Cover story|
|Date:||Aug 28, 2006|
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