A Penhold mother has told a parliamentary committee of her daughter’s terror at being abducted in 2009 by a man in RCMP uniform.
“The uniform and the office is sacred. We depend on the police to keep us safe,” the woman testified at a Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights meeting on Monday. The committee was discussing Red Deer MP Earl Dreeshen’s private member’s bill on personation.
Bill C-444 would amend the Criminal Code so personating a peace or public officer to commit another offence is made an aggravating circumstance, allowing judges to impose longer sentences up to a five-year maximum.
Gerard John Baumgarte of Red Deer, then 57, pleaded guilty to kidnapping, sexual assault and other charges after the teen’s 2009 abduction and sexual assault. He’s serving a six-month sentence for personating a police officer, which runs concurrently with an 18-year sentence for the other charges.
The mother told MPs how her then-16-year-old daughter drove to a Penhold gas station on Feb. 26 and was followed home and stopped “not 25 feet from my bedroom window” by a man in an RCMP uniform under the guise of an insurance check. He pulled a gun, yelled she was under arrest, bound and blindfolded her, cut her face and threw her into the trunk of his car — which was equipped with red flashing lights — on a -32C night.
In the ensuing 47 hours, she was kept bound and blindfolded and assaulted numerous times.
When she called home on a pay phone, her father told her to stay put because “police are coming.
“Her reply stunned us. She said, ‘Dad, a policeman did this to me.’ ”
During the investigation, an Edmonton RCMP major crimes officer told the family that Baumgarte’s uniform looked so authentic that the officer’s wife would think it real.
The mother testified that during Baumgarte’s trial, the family was further stunned to learn that personating an officer only carried a six-month maximum penalty, and that’s why they approached Dreeshen in 2010 on the issue.
“When people see a police uniform, they naturally trust the authority that comes with it,” the Red Deer MP told the committee.
“Personating an officer has the same effect as using a weapon: it forces the victim to submit.”
Dreeshen re-introduced his bill after it died on the order paper following the 2011 federal election call.
He also testified that there have been about 50 documented cases of police personation across Canada in recent years.
The mother said her daughter, who was also at the committee meeting, suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and “has issues with anyone wearing a uniform and likely will for life.
“This fear is ongoing. She never wants to give a policeman any reason to pull her over,” she said, adding that Central Alberta RCMP officers have flagged her driving file so if she is pulled over, they’d know she would call for their identification confirmation.
The woman’s impassioned testimony asked MPs to “make the punishment fit the egregious nature of the crime.
“This is an offence against society as a whole. Penalties need to approach the maximums more often than keep the minimums.”
She closed by thanking the committee for hearing her family’s side of the story.
“That a citizen of Penhold can come to Ottawa to be heard by the leaders of our country is a profound privilege.”
Bill C-444 has received second reading in the House of Commons and will be studied by the committee before recommendations are made for third reading. The bill has received support from all three major political parties.