This article appeared in the Prince Albert Herald and some community papers. The unedited version appears below. Click here to see the P.A. version online.
Peter Whitmore, facing trial for 15 charges involving a 10-year-old Saskatchewan boy and a 14-year-old from Manitoba, seemed the surest of candidates to be labelled a dangerous offender. He was arrested at an abandoned farmyard near Kipling, Saskatchewan a year ago for the most sordid of charges: three counts of sexual assault causing bodily harm, plus kidnapping, abduction of a person under the age of 14, unlawful confinement, uttering threats, possession of a pellet gun and a knife, possession of child pornography, and making child pornography available to his alleged victims. Almost indisputable evidence and the appalled horror of a nation amounted to a slam-dunk case.
Yet, incredibly, crown laywers announced they would bargain dangerous offender status away. The best of the return concessions is that the boys involved will not have to testify at the trial. After that, everything else seems dubious. Whitmore would spend the rest of his life under some form of supervision. (Why wouldn’t he anyway?) Whitmore also agreed to a life sentence if convicted.
Director of Public Prosecutions Murray Brown actually indicted the legal system itself when he explained his rationale: "Life sentences are just a very, very, very rare thing in this country,'' he explained. "If somebody is prepared to say, `I'll agree to a life sentence,' and we have some reasonable assurance that the court's going to impose that, then it just wouldn't make sense to go dangerous offender.''
“Oh, really?” is the first of many questions that follow a statement like this. Why would a country like Canada, that already banned capital punishment, also have a virtual ban on life sentences? Have we run out of perverts and murderers? And if Whitmore isn’t a dangerous offender, who is?
Whitmore, who caused Saskatchewan’s first ever amber alert, was convicted at least three times since 1993 of sexual offences against eight other children. In his first conviction 14 years ago, Whitmore was found guilty of abduction and five sexual offences involving four Toronto boys. Shortly after his release from prison less than two years later, he abducted an eight-year-old Guelph girl and took her to Toronto. After getting out of jail on those charges, he was found in 2000 in a Toronto motel with a 13-year-old boy. Less than two years later, he was found with a five-year-old boy, and a so-called "rape kit" containing zip-tie handcuffs, duct tape, latex gloves, and lubricant. In 2004, the parole board said he had a 100% chance of re-offending. Yet, authorities lost track of him soon after his three-year sentence was finished. Guess what happened next?
Yet, after this crown deal, Whitmore will be eligible for parole after just seven years. Dangerous offenders are released less than two percent of the time. In Canada most federal prisoners serve no more than 40% of their sentences before being granted full parole.
"I guess this is our fault," said the ten year old’s boy's father regarding the deal. "But there's no way we're putting a 10-year-old boy on the stand to be cross-examined by Whitmore and his lawyer. He's been through enough."
No, it’s not your fault. It’s the legal system that has failed too many times.
Prosecutor Brown actually said, "Frankly, if somebody that we were thinking about doing a dangerous offender on agreed to a life sentence, I would be hard pressed to explain to the public why I would spend the resources to pursue a dangerous offender proceeding.''
Au contraire. It’s so much harder to explain why dangerous offender status was bargained away. As lawyer and child advocate Norman Boudreau said, it was “a deal with the devil.”