Top court orders new trial in sex chat case

OTTAWA — An Alberta man who admitted to sexual online chats with a 12-year-old girl, but was acquitted of Internet luring, must face a new trial.

OTTAWA — An Alberta man who admitted to sexual online chats with a 12-year-old girl, but was acquitted of Internet luring, must face a new trial.

The Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday upheld an appeal court ruling that ordered a new trial for Craig Bartholomew Legare.

The high court said the trial judge was unduly constrictive in interpreting the law, an effort to close the Internet door to predators hunting children.

At a 2006 trial on two sexual luring counts, the judge called Legare’s actions “despicable and repugnant,” but said that since he had no intention of ever meeting the child, there was no crime.

The Alberta Court of Appeal overturned one of the two acquittals, saying Parliament had enacted an offence of communication, not of physical contact, in its Internet luring law.

The Supreme Court, in its 7-0 ruling, agreed with the appeal judges.

Legare admitted to posing as a 17-year-old in his chats with the girl in 2003. He was 32 at the time. She claimed to be 14, although she was actually 12.

Legare admitted to the sexual chats and to phoning the girl at home after she gave him her number. However, he said he had no intention of meeting nor did any sexual activity take place.

But Justice Morris Fish, writing for the Supreme Court, said there’s more to the law than physical contact.

He said the law “makes it a crime to communicate by computer with underage children or adolescents for the purpose of facilitating the commission of the offences mentioned in its constituent paragraphs.

“In this context, ’facilitating’ includes helping to bring about and making easier or more probable — for example, by ’luring’ or ’grooming’ young persons to commit or participate in the prohibited conduct; by reducing their inhibitions; or by prurient discourse that exploits a young person’s curiosity, immaturity or precocious sexuality.”

Fish said criminal chats need not be sexually explicit.

“Those who use their computers to lure children for sexual purposes often groom them online by first gaining their trust through conversations about their home life, their personal interests or other innocuous topics.”

He said the Internet luring law creates what he called a “preparatory crime.”

“It criminalizes conduct that precedes the commission of the sexual offences to which it refers, and even an attempt to commit them. Nor, indeed, must the offender meet or intend to meet the victim with a view to committing any of the specified secondary offences.

“This is in keeping with Parliament’s objective to close the cyberspace door before the predator gets in to prey.”

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