Protect kids from predators

Outrage is not much help. A petition is better but it's still not enough.

Much more needs to be done about child sex predators and our federal politicians need to get busy. Todd Doherty's bill to establish a national strategy to address post-traumatic stress disorder was passed with the support of all the federal parties. Can't Doherty and all of the federal parties also agree on a similar national strategy to better protect children from sexual predators?

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Convicted child sex predators have Section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on their side to protect them from cruel and unusual punishment. That does not mean that current sentences can't be increased - former Burns Lake mayor Luke Strimbold was sentenced last month to two years less a day in jail, followed by two years probation, after pleading guilty to four counts of sexual assault involving four boys who were under the age of 16.

That is cruel and unusual punishment - to the victims and to society at large.

What message does that sentence send? To the victims, it says that as a child you are fair game to be physically and sexually assaulted by an adult (who likely is in a position of trust and power). If you have the courage to step forward, you will likely be believed but you will have to tell your story multiple times to multiple people, including possibly in an open courtroom. In exchange, those children face the possibility of seeing their attacker walking freely on the streets of their hometown within a matter of months.

The sentences for other violent crimes are often lengthy terms in federal prison. The sentences for child sex predators are - except in the absolute most horrific cases - not much different than theft under $5,000, breaking and entering or drug trafficking.

Section 271 of the Criminal Code gets the first part of the equation correct. The maximum sentence for sexual assault of someone under the age of 16 is 14 years. It's the minimum punishment - one year! - that's horribly inadequate.

Unfortunately, the word punishment implies that the offender is the central character in the story of criminal responsibility and incarceration but that's not the case. The whole point of sending people off to jail is to protect the rest of society, particularly its most vulnerable members, to give teeth to the law and to show victims that broader society cares about them and their suffering.

For the offenders, offering programs to addresses with mental health, addictions and trauma issues provide a path to redemption and a meaningful life outside of the criminal justice system. In the end, however, that is an individual choice. It's a good thing that Strimbold will serve his sentence at Ford Mountain near Chilliwack to take part in the sexual offender treatment program there but it's a lesser priority, well behind the rights of his victims and Canadian society.

This is where Canadian lawmakers need to be engaged. Protecting children from sexual predators requires a three-pronged approach.

First, convicted offenders need to spend far more time behind bars so other children are protected from these predators and to better reflect society's disgust in these crimes and those who would commit them. Second, children can't be sheltered from this topic. They must be taught, emphatically and at an early age, both at home and in schools, what inappropriate touching is and what they can do to stop it. Lastly, government needs to invest in programs to help individuals from committing these crimes in the first place. Most child sex predators know the immorality of their actions but create elaborate internal stories to justify their behaviour.

Some of that is happening now but it's clearly not enough. There are still too many Luke Strimbolds in the world.

Can our federal lawmakers look at themselves in the mirror and say they have honestly done everything they can to protect children from child sex predators? Can the rest of us say we have done everything we can to protect our children?

We haven't.

It's time that changed.

This is an issue that, like PTSD, easily overcomes political partisanship.

We can do more.

We must do more.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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