Warning: This report contains details involving the sexual abuse of children that readers may find disturbing.
Mario Laplante was 57 years old when he first began having sexual thoughts about children. Five years later, he “very regularly” accessed child pornography online at the Whatì Health Centre where he worked, a Northwest Territories court heard Thursday.
By the time RCMP arrested Laplante in the Tłı̨chǫ community on August 22, 2019, the 64-year-old registered nurse had been using file sharing software on the dark web to collect and share thousands of images and videos of child pornography.
Now convicted of two crimes, the 64 year old faces up to four years in prison and will be listed on the national sex offenders’ registry for the rest of his life.
“I knew it was wrong,” Laplante told NWT Supreme Court Justice Louise Charbonneau on the final day of his sentencing hearing.”I did not realize how far down I went into that darkness. I understand now.”
Speaking in a quiet voice that fell to a whisper through tears, the slightly built Laplante said he never touched any children — especially during his 35 years working as a nurse. Through a pronounced French accent, Laplante said he would always ask another nurse to do any physical exams on young people, “for the respect of the child.”
Crown prosecutors Morgan Fane and Jill Andrews called for Laplante to be sentenced to a prison term between 3.5 to four years. Defence lawyer Mallorie Malone argued for three years.
Fane quoted from a decision Charbonneau made in a similar case in 2016, where she said children are put through “torture” by adults who force them to make pornographic content.
“As your honour said … every consumer of child pornography has a responsibility in and must be held accountable for, the terrible harm that is done to the children who are subjected to this unspeakable abuse in the production of these things,” Fane said.
“The Crown says that intentionally accessing, downloading and in so doing making available to others who are so inclined … this type of material is highly morally blameworthy [as] anyone creating this material, ought to immediately and obviously be aware of the terrible harm occasioned to those in it.”
Defence lawyer Malone said her client, who now lives in Ontario, sought “sexual behaviours counselling and treatment” at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre while released on bail.
As a result, she said, her client now appreciates, “not only the harm that he has done, [but] the harm that is done by people producing child pornography.”’
“He accepted full responsibility for the offences before the court and added that he was relieved to get arrested,” she said.
Laplante wants to serve his sentence in a federal prison in Ontario, Malone said, so he can continue treatment and remain close to his wife.
“She wishes to continue in the relationship,” the lawyer said. “She is essentially the only support that he has at this point.”
During the sentencing hearing, Justice Charbonneau raised questions about the appropriate terminology around child sexual abuse.
She asked prosecutor Fane why courts used the term “child pornography” while experts and survivors favor the term “child sexual abuse material.”
Fane explained the term “child pornography” normalizes that it’s a “sexually stimulating piece of media,” for some people.
“It hides, in fact, the reality of what it is … it [can sound as if] the children were willing participants, when in reality, they are not,” he said, noting parliament used the term “child pornography” when crafting applicable laws.
Charbonneau said she tended to agree with Fane’s assessment.
“Maybe it’s time … judges use different terms,” she said. “I noticed that no one who works with the victims … use the phrase.”
Charbonneau has reserved her decision on sentencing until April 12.