Friday, August 04, 2006

Whitmore case highlights justice system flaws

VICTORIA - It's time for answers about how pedophile Peter Whitmore was able to roam so freely around Canada even though authorities were convinced he was a threat to children.
The notion that we can reduce crime problems by locking more people up for longer periods is generally foolish. Other countries have tried that approach and found it to be a costly failure. Tough talk on crime has more to do with politics than pragmatism.
But Whitmore and a small number of others like him - apparently incorrigible sex offenders who target children - pose a special challenge for courts, police and society. His case suggests the response is inadequate.
Whitmore surrendered to police in Saskatchewan and now faces sexual assault and abduction charges.
But his record goes back to 1993, when he was convicted of abducting and sexually assaulting four young boys. He served 16 months in jail, a relatively light sentence that likely reflected the court's view that he could change his behaviour.
He didn't. Nine days after he was set free Whitmore abducted an eight-year-old girl and sexually assaulted her. He was sentenced to four years in jail. Released under a set of conditions, he fled to Mexico and was eventually returned to jail.
When he was released once more Whitmore spoke to reporters and pleaded to be left alone. He wouldn't re-offend, he said. One more conviction could mean dangerous offender status and life in jail.
Weeks later he was found in a hotel room with a 13-year-old boy and sent back to prison for a year.
Released again, Whitmore was found with a five-year-old boy, carrying what police described as a "rape kit" -- tape, plastic ties, latex gloves and lubricant.
It should have been clear that Whitmore was a risk to children. Even knowing he faced life in jail, he was unable to stop.
But the criminal justice system was unable to respond to the danger effectively with sentences that protected society or effective supervision.
One solution is supposed to be dangerous offender designation, a rarely used but important provision that allows judges to jail offenders permanently if they appear certain to commit more crimes.
But Whitmore didn't qualify. He was repeatedly jailed for violating the conditions of his release, not for serious offences that would have allowed the Crown to apply for dangerous offender status.
Perhaps the Crown should have been more diligent in laying additional charges. Perhaps the legislation needs to be changed to allow dangerous offender status for people with offence patterns like Whitmore's. Something needs to change.
The case raises other serious issues.
When Whitmore was released in B.C. last year he was the subject of a Section 810 order, an extraordinary measure that allows police to keep close tabs on an offender released after serving his full sentence. He can be required to report daily to police, for example, and notify them of all his movements.
But, so far inexpilicaly, the order was allowed to lapse this June. Whitmore left for Alberta immediately. Police and Crown prosecutors there were in the process of applying for a new order, but were moving slowly. Whitmore, freed from tight supervision, took off across the country on his own. You have read the rest.
The failure has nothing to do with gaps in the law or a need for tougher legislation.
All police and prosecutors had to do was make sure the order was renewed before it expired on June 12 so that Whitmore remained under close supervision. (That had apparently worked for a year.)
They didn't do that, despite warnings from the parole board that he was virtually certain to re-offend.
Pedophile offenders pose a huge challenge to the justice system. Treatment is difficult and many remain a high risk to commit new assaults.
Whitmore's case suggests the system did not meet the challenge, in large part because it failed to make effective use of the existing laws.
Footnote: The case also highlights the need for the changes to age-of-consent legislation, promised by the Conservatives for this fall. Whitmore is accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy travelling with him. Under the current law, his defence options include arguing that the boy was a consenting sex partner.


Anonymous said...

It isn't like this guy suddenly out of the blue starts abducting children. There is supposed to be legal methods of controlling his movements. The guy has a mental condition and must be under scutiny. It's simply not good enough that he had some order accidentally run out, then a large percentage of the country spends their lives in fear of what he is doing. Huge amounts of money is spent tracking him and his victims down, then what? Some cops tell him if he gives up he won't be listed as a dangeous offender.Even gets it in writing. Within a day or so some politician says, the folks who bargained a deal with him simply couldn't do that. Wonder if the next guy with a few hostages, holed up somewhere and gets assurances from the people dealing with him or her will believe the assurances actually mean something. If society has the money to find such people, surely we must have the collective brains to keep others safe from them.

Anonymous said...

We tag all sorts of animals with GPS tracking. We have the anklet to assure house arrest is house arrest.
Why not a law that the offenders wear a tracking device? They want to be left alone, no problem.
Someone like this needs to be tracked. If there isn't the person-hours budgeted for watching these people, and he could be tracked electronically, what would it take to send a police officer to wherever he has been spending time in, or travelling especially far from his home or another province?
It's time that Canada weaned off the American system of states having laws and bylaws not in agreement or accord with another. We're all Canada, and Canada deserves a law enforcement system which is able to pinpoint exactly where the released "likely to reoffend" people are.
This tracking must only be used for repeat offenders who have threatened or taken the lives of people. E.g. Karla Homolka.
If that case is not in the interest of all Canadians, I don't know what is.
Not everyone has to know where they are, but law enforcement must know.
This process must be done and be seen to be done in public.
I understand that some civil liberty people would be upset, but in the case of dangerous, repeat offenders I think it is the least intrusive and the most effective method which allows the offender as much freedom he or she deserves.

Anonymous said...

I heard the new Justice Minister on TV News last evening. Someone was asking him about dealing with such people. One word says Redneck Vic. "Jails." Nice and simple, horribly expensive and doesn't address the issue of poeople who are wired to do such things.

Lots of new construction , extra staff and unless the guys are totally isolated, a few deaths inside the prisons. I thought we were a advanced society?

deaner said...

"Nice and simple, horribly expensive and doesn't address the issue of poeople who are wired to do such things."

Well, so far, nothing else we have tried has "addressed the issue of people who are wired to do such things," either, now has it? Surveilance and monitoring after release is no less expensive, and poses much higher risks to the rest of us, and to our children. Jail is supposed to provide rehabilitation - if Whitmore truly is "wired to do such things" (and I accept that he is) then rehabilitation is not possible - what then? Permanent incarceration is a more humane alternative than a lethal injection, unless I presume too much in thinking that you would exclude that option, too.

Anonymous said...

This year, he added my friend on facebook and told her he was young and they were going to meet up at a smoothie shop, this scares me that he will never seem to learn his lesson