By Lisa Arrowsmith
EDMONTON (CP) - A wheelchair-bound Alberta woman's quest for love over the Internet has landed her a conditional sentence of two years less a day for sending sexual pictures of her young son to an Ottawa man she met online.
The woman, who can't be identified to protect her son, pleaded guilty in May to one count of sexual interference and one count of transmitting child pornography early in 2004.
She sat quietly Friday in her motorized wheelchair as she listened to the judge reciting the facts in the case - a tale of a lonely, physically disabled woman drawn into cyberspace and what a psychologist described as an almost cult-like relationship with a man she met in a chat room specializing in bondage.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Mary Moreau acknowledged that conditional sentences in such cases are unusual. The maximum sentence for distributing child pornography is 10 years and the Crown had sought a term of up to six years.
But the judge ruled that the woman's physical difficulties due to cerebral palsy had isolated her, making her more vulnerable to an online predator. That factored into a decision to impose a term of house arrest, 60 hours of community service and three years of probation.
Court heard the woman's exchanges with the man, identified only as Thomas, progressed over three years. The relationship went from a submissive one that gave her a feeling of self-worth to him sending her child pornography and her sending him nude pictures of her six-year-old son.
"The psychological makeup of (the accused) and her infirmities played a role in the offences in this case," Moreau said, pointing to a psychologist's report that drew parallels between the accused's submission to her online boyfriend and indoctrination into a cult.
The psychologist determined that the woman was required to tell her "master" her every thought and suggested he somehow normalized sexual contact with her son and broke down the mother's inhibitions.
According to an agreed statement of facts, the man told the woman her son needed sexual release and if she didn't help, he would "go somewhere else for it and could be harmed in the process."
"T.L.B" (the accused) was being groomed psychologically by Thomas to commit the offences in question," the justice told the court.
"He weakened her moral inhibitions and integrity."
The man was charged with possession of child pornography in 2004.
Moreau said the sexual touching constituted a major sexual assault, but she noted it happened only once, the pornography was not for profit and prison would be unduly harsh for the woman because of her disabilities.
"I am satisfied that T.L.B's prison experience would be considerably harsher than that of the inmate without her infirmities," concluded Moreau, who added the woman would be isolated because she doesn't have the full use of her hands and has difficulty speaking.
Moreau also noted the accused had never been convicted of a crime and was not considered a pedophile by the psychologist who interviewed her.
The mother, whose son was taken from her after police began their investigation in April 2004, gave the court a submission blaming abuse she was suffering in a common-law relationship.
"I did what I did because of abuse I was going through myself. No one looks at the fact that I was being abused, too," the woman wrote.
"I thought Thomas would be the one to get into trouble, not me, but it didn't work that way."
The woman is also prohibited from using the Internet for three months. Filtering software will then be placed on her computer to prevent access to child pornography sites. A five-year ban also forbids her to frequent areas where children gather.
The judge said adding the woman's name to a national registry of sex offenders would not serve the public interest, since the circumstances were unique and her risk to reoffend is very low.
Carrie Kohan, an Alberta-based child advocate fighting for tougher laws against pedophiles, dismissed the sentence as not tough enough.
"No matter what your disability, no matter what your situation is, I think you have to be responsible for your actions," Kohan said in an interview Friday.
Kohan, who has spoken in favour of much harsher sentences for pedophiles to the Commons Justice Committee, said an alarmingly high percentage of child sex abusers receive house arrest and fines for their actions instead of serious jail time.
"We have to send a message to Canadians that you can't put children at risk, no matter what situation you're in," Kohan said.
"Although I can understand her isolation, and I certainly feel for her, I think we have to put out a message that enough is enough," she said.
Kohan is pushing for mandatory 20-year sentences for repeat child sexual abusers.