Warning: This report contains details involving the sexual abuse of children that readers may find disturbing.
A man who was working as a nurse at the health centre in Whatì when he was charged with child pornography offences in 2019 has been sentenced to nearly four years’ imprisonment.
Mario Laplante, 65, had pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography and one count of making it available to others. In NWT Supreme Court on Tuesday, Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau sentenced him to a total of three years, eight months and 20 days for the crimes.
During a sentencing hearing in February, the Crown had argued Laplante should be sentenced to between three and a half and four years in prison. Laplante’s lawyer said a sentence of three years would be sufficient.
Charbonneau on Tuesday agreed with the Crown that the sentence should reflect the seriousness of Laplante’s crimes and send a clear message of deterrence to anyone else considering or currently accessing similar content.
“It’s simply not enough to say the conduct is grave,” she said. “This has to be reflected in the sentence imposed.”
The judge said she took into account the “sheer amount of material” that Laplante had downloaded, the age of the children involved, the “extremely serious nature of the abuse inflicted” in the images and videos, and the lifelong harm to victims.
Charbonneau also considered that Laplante cooperated with the police investigation, expressed remorse, sought out treatment, and has been assessed by two forensic psychiatrists as being at a low risk of reoffending. She added that by pleading guilty, Laplante prevented what would have been a “very resource-intensive” trial given the technical aspects involved.
The justice pointed out that while the criminal code uses the term “child pornography,” many victims and advocates prefer the term “child sexual abuse material.” She agreed that the latter better reflects that the children involved are being sexually assaulted.
“Words matter,” she said, adding that only Parliament can change the wording in the criminal code.
Laplante was living and working at the health centre in Whatì when he downloaded a “significant amount” of child sexual abuse material from the internet over a period of roughly three months. By accessing that content through a file-sharing application, he also made it available to others.
Laplante told the court he had never touched any children and said he respected the dignity of his underage patients.
Following a forensic investigation of Laplante’s laptop, RCMP found more than 2,900 individual images and more than 250 hours of video that met the definition of child pornography under the criminal code. The children involved ranged in age from infancy to 13 years old.
Charbonneau said after viewing a representative sample of that content, she was “particularly struck” by the expressions on the children’s faces, which she described as “haunting.”
“The abuse visited on these children is unspeakable,” she said.
Charbonneau said sharing child sexual abuse material normalizes it and contributes to creating a community of offenders.
She said the impacts of sexual abuse can include depression, low self-esteem, self-harm, shame, self-blame, suicide, difficulty functioning, insomnia, and difficulty trusting others.
Four victims and the mother of a fifth submitted victim impact statements during Laplante’s sentencing hearing. Knowing that their images continue to circulate, they described living in fear and being revictimized every time those images are viewed or shared.
“The worst moments of my life are forever replaying on the internet,” one of them said.
Taking into account the time Laplante served in pre-trial custody, two years and eight months of his sentence remains.
Charbonneau recommended that Laplante be allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence in Ontario so he can resume treatment and be closer to his wife, who continues to support him.
“I wish you luck and courage in continuing to address whatever took you to that place,” she told Laplante, referencing his statement during sentencing that he went to “a dark place” in committing his crimes.
“I certainly hope you’re able to put your life back on track with the help of your wife and never go there again.”
For 10 years following his release, Laplante will be under court-imposed restrictions.
He will be prohibited from attending a daycare, school, playground or community centre, and must have no contact with anyone under the age of 16 unless in the presence of another adult over the age of 19 who is aware of his conditions.
He also cannot be employed or volunteer in a position of trust or authority to anyone under the age of 16, and must, upon request, hand to a peace officer any electronic devices that can access the internet, along with their passwords.
Finally, Laplante is required to submit a DNA sample to a national data bank and will be on the sexual offender registry for life.