Advertisement.

Crime

NWT judge rules she must see sample of child porn to sentence man


The chief justice of the NWT Supreme Court has ruled she must view a “representative sample” of thousands of pieces of child pornography seized by RCMP from a former nurse in Whatì.

Justice Louise Charbonneau also on Thursday ordered the sealing of two video impact statements from people portrayed in the pornography after they are played in open court when the sentencing of Mario Laplante resumes next month.

The 64-year-old has pleaded guilty to charges of possessing child pornography and having made child pornography available to others. Victims ranged in age from infancy to about 13 years old.

Advertisement.

His sentencing hearing began on August 4 and is scheduled to continue on September 13.

The hearing was divided into two stages to allow Charbonneau to address three preliminary issues.

In her 12-page ruling, Charbonneau said the issue of viewing a sample of the images “comes down to my assessment of whether the prejudicial effect of this evidence, both on my reasoning process and for the well-being of other justice system participants, outweighs its probative value.”

She acknowledged some court staff might have to view the representative sample of 15 images and 15 short excerpts of videos, along with Crown prosecutors Jill Andrews and Morgan Fane and defence lawyer Mallorie Malone.

Advertisement.

“The probative value and power of an image is undeniable,” said Charbonneau. “For having read and heard countless descriptions of injuries, and for having also seen countless photographs depicting injuries, I am well placed to know that an image is indeed worth a thousand words.

“In the day-to-day operations of the criminal justice system, unfortunately, judges sometimes see horrific things and hear horrific things, and must be vigilant about the effect this has on their reasoning processes and their decisions.”

Charbonneau noted if she didn’t view some of the images, “someone will have to describe them to me.”

That would likely be done on the stand or in writing by RCMP Cst Miranda Porr, the judge said.

“If the descriptions are part of her testimony, counsel and the court staff [and others attending court] will hear it,” said the judge.

“These descriptions, by necessity, will go on for some time: experience tells us that describing an image or a video in words takes a lot longer than for someone to simply look at the image or video. 

“While I do not doubt that the images themselves are more disturbing than a description, a detailed description of these materials will also be extremely disturbing and potentially traumatic as well.”

Fear of identification

Laplante admits he was in possession of thousands of images and thousands of videos that constitute child pornography.

He was charged in August 2019 while living in Whatì and working as a registered nurse. The court has previously heard he used the health centre’s internet to download the material, which was later circulated to others through file-sharing service. 

He was released under strict conditions and had to reside at his new home in Ontario.

The Crown intends to call Cst Porr to testify about the size of Laplante’s set of images and videos and its categorization. Charbonneau plans to view the sample in her chambers following the officer’s testimony.

As for the sealing of the victim impact statements, Charbonneau noted they will also be under a publication ban.

The Crown has filed a number of written victim impact statements, but two of them are also video recorded.

“It is clear that the victims who recorded these videos live with the fear of being identified,” said the judge in her ruling. “This fear exists, obviously, because they know images and videos that depict them are in circulation. 

“The purpose of presenting the videos is to give these victims an opportunity to address the court directly, in the manner closest to what they have an absolute right to do: namely, to attend court and present their victim impact statement in person.”

Charbonneau said sealing the video recordings afterward will help to reduce the victims’ anxiety concerning being identified.

Lastly, Charbonneau ruled that a 19-page community impact statement by Monique St Germain, general counsel for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, can be entered as an exhibit.

The community impact statement includes information gleaned from various sources, including direct work with survivors, their parents, and guardians.

Advertisement.