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Child Pornography: A Look at the John Robyn Sharpe Trial

By Darren Leyenhorst (Surrey/Cloverdale ARPA), June 2002

When I look at my children and see their innocence it is hard for me not to get angry at the ruling in the recent John Robin Sharpe case. I won’t get into the gross details (it would make your stomach turn) so suffice it to say that Mr. Sharpe produced pornographic writings which contained descriptions of sexual acts with boys and men. That his written material is considered by some members of society to be writings with “artistic merit” makes me wonder if our society is striving to be the next Sodom and Gomorrah.

Instead of protecting our children the laws seem to be protecting the sexually deviant.

The judge in Mr. Sharpe’s B.C. Supreme Court trial held that Canadian legislation regarding child pornography was in place to restrict material that puts children at risk of harm. He then required proof that obscene materials actually cause harm (even though other judges had not required this in the past), but apparently found little “scientific” evidence linking the possession of child pornography to these risks. He therefore decided that the law was not achieving its purpose. This despite the fact that experts in the field maintained that Mr. Sharpe’s writings were not artistic but rather that they actually contribute to the sexual abuse of children. One expert even stated that Mr. Sharpe’s writings were among the most violent that he had ever read.

The trial judge took his analysis one step further and decided that the law was an invasion of Mr. Sharpe’s freedom of expression and personal privacy. The issue became whether the limitation of freedom of expression by the pornography law is justifiable under the Charter (even given the harm possession of child pornography can cause to children). The fundamental question to be answered, therefore, was whether the Criminal Code goes too far by banning all child pornography (including written materials, computer images, and images drawn by people). At the crux of the case was this question: are Canada’s laws banning the possession of child pornography constitutional or do they wrongly intrude on the constitutional right of Canadians to free expression? Both the trial judge and the British Columbia Court of Appeal agreed that the pornography law was unconstitutional. Subsequently, the Supreme Court of Canada declared the law constitutional but allowed an exception for the possession of any written material or pictures created and held by the accused for his personal use.

Mr. Sharpe was retried after the Supreme Court of Canada decision, based on that court’s re-interpretation of the law. He was convicted of possession involving pornographic photographs of children, but was acquitted of the charges involving his personal writings on the grounds that they had artistic merit. Even though Mr. Sharpe showed no remorse and wasn’t interested in treatment, the courts gave him a lenient sentence of house arrest between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m., no contact with anyone under the age of 18, and access to the Internet that is restricted by software that blocks out pornographic sites (since this ruling he has also appealed some of these conditions). Canadian Alliance Justice Critic Vic Toews condemned the sentence: “It is clearly inadequate as it fails to recognize the gravity of Mr. Sharpe’s offence. Canadians condemn the violent sexual exploitation of children, and the courts must demonstrate that these crimes will be taken seriously. I find it astounding that this judge would state that Sharpe’s criminal activities pose no danger to society.”

Indeed, the law as re-written by the Supreme Court of Canada and the sentence given to Mr. Sharpe sends the wrong message to the public. This decision opens the door to acceptance of certain types of child pornography in Canada, as it makes the task of police trying to combat child pornography that much more difficult: now they must prove that the pornography is actually meant for distribution in order to get a conviction. Further, a stiffer sentence would have gone a long way in deterring others from using and circulating child pornography. Case in point: the head of the child pornography task force in Vancouver has said that ever sin the ruling in the Sharpe case she has seen a boom in the amount of child pornography that is being distributed.

This court decision reflects the moral decline that is taking place in our country. It is ironic that freedom of expression over-rides the protection of children from exploitation. Despite the intention of Parliament to protect children under the law, this court decision citing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms advances the moral decay of our society. It is now up to our government to respond to the courts and speedily draft laws to counter the Sharpe decision. As MP Dan Mcteague said on the issue of the current child pornography laws, “they have become a bad joke arrived at by judicial interpretations that see no problem in creating a constitutional right to exploit children.” Many other democratic governments ban all child pornography so why doesn’t Canada?

It seems that our government won’t respond to issues unless the public puts the pressure on them (as we saw with the latest corruption scandals). Therefore, we should let our MP’s know where we stand on these issues and challenge the government to re-draft the child pornography possession law to reflect Parliament’s original objective: to criminalize the possession of material that poses a risk of harm to children. This risk of harm was summarized by the following connections between the possession of child pornography and harm to children: (1) child pornography promotes its distorted acts as normal; (2) it fuels fantasies that incite offenders to offend; (3) it is used for grooming and seducing victims; (4) children are abused in the production of child pornography involving real children. The bottom line is that criminalizing possession will reduce the market for child pornography and the abuse of children that it involves. Child pornography, as reflected in the law as it is stated in section 163.1(1) of the Criminal Code, is inherently harmful to children and to society.

Parliament has the responsibility and ability to make moral judgments in criminalizing certain forms of conduct. The courts should be sensitive to the legitimate role of government in legislating with respect to these social values. The prohibition of child pornography minimally impairs the right to free expression: the inclusion of written material in the offence of possession does not amount to thought-control; rather the legislation seeks to prohibit harmful material.

If you put the whole issue of child pornography in the light of Scriptures there is no denying our moral responsibilities. The Lord has told us to keep our bodies pure. We read this in 1 Cor. 6:13, 18: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” The Bible also mandates us to protect the most vulnerable people in society. We have to send the message to society that child pornography does not have artistic merit in any of its forms. It is an abomination to our heavenly Father. Why do the media and special interest groups have to ring the alarm bells? Are Christians being silent bystanders or are we holding the government morally accountable? We must let our light shine in the world and let the government know that they need to draft legislation in order to protect children and fight the further perversion of society. Prayer also plays an enormous role in this matter. We have to pray that the God who is in control will direct the hearts of those that govern us against the constant attacks of the devil. Let us remember that we are in the world and are to be mirrors reflecting God’s will. We must use all the means given us to promote what is in accordance with the will of the Lord, especially in issues as important as child pornography.

 

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