Supreme Court Rules a Crucial Element of Child Luring Law is Unconstitutional

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last month the highest court in Canada ruled that a provision in the law forbidding the luring of children over the internet is unconstitutional and ordered a new trial for alleged offender Douglas Morrison (“Morrison”).  This decision may result in a number of child luring convictions being overturned across Canada.

In this landmark decision regarding the validity of child luring laws in Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down two parts of the child luring laws found under section 172.1 of the Criminal Code.  The decision in R. v. Morrison will affect those cases where police officers pretend to be minors in an effort to apprehend suspected online predators.

WHAT IS THE CHILD LURING LAW IN CANADA?

The offence of child luring in Canada can be found in section 172.1 of the Criminal Code.  Child luring is defined as using the internet to communicate with an individual who is, or who the perpetrator believes to be, under the age of 18 for the purposes of committing the offence of sexual exploitation, incest, child pornography or sexual assault. 

You may also be charged with child luring if you communicate with an individual you know, or believe to be, under the age of 16 for the purposes of committing the offence of sexual exploitation, invitation to sexual touching, indecent exposure to a person under the age of 16 or abduction of a person under 16 years old.

If the Crown chooses to proceed by indictment (more serious offences) and you are found guilty of child luring, you will face a minimum of one year in prison, up to a maximum of 14 years in prison.  If the Crown chooses to proceed summarily (less serious offences), you will face a minimum of 6 months in jail, up to a maximum of 2 years less a day.

WHAT HAPPENED IN R. v. MORRISON?

Morrison was charged with child luring under section 172.1 of the Criminal Code.  He posted an online ad on Craigslist pursuing sexual conversations and stating he was interested in younger girls.  His ad was entitled “Daddy looking for his little girl”. 

Over the course of two months, police posed as a 14 year old girl named “Mia”.  Morrison began a sexual discussion with Mia, requested that she touch herself sexually, suggested she watch pornography, asked her for photographs, and arranged to pick Mia up after school (the encounter never occurred).  Consequently, Morrison was charged with child luring. 

During his trial, Morrison argued that he believed he was speaking to an adult online who was role playing as a character of a 14 year old girl.  He maintained that the rules on Craigslist require that users are to be 18 years old or older.  He was convicted at trial and the conviction was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA?

On appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, Morrison brought three Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”) challenges pertaining to section 172.1 of the Criminal Code. The Charter arguments before the court were the following:

  • Section 172.1(3) violated his right to be presumed innocent under section 11(d) of the Charter;
  • Section 172.1(4) contains presumptions (requiring a person to take reasonable steps to ascertain the age of the individual they are contacting and to ensure he/she is not underage) that were not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice and violated section 7 of the Charter, which protects the right to life, liberty and security of a person; and
  • Section 172.1(2)(b) contains a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison which violated the guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment found in section 12 of the Charter.

The Supreme Court of Canada overturned Morrison’s conviction citing errors made by the trial judge.  The Court ruled unanimously that the government’s wording of the child luring law violates the presumption of innocence guaranteed by the Charter.  It is the role of the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an accused genuinely believed he/she was communicating with an individual who was underage.

Justice Michael Moldaver, writing for the majority of the Court, stated:

In short, there is but one pathway to conviction: proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused believed the other person was underage.  Nothing less will suffice.

The accused, in his/her defence, may prove that he/she took “reasonable” steps to determine if the alleged victim was underage.  If this cannot be shown, then the accused cannot argue that he/she believed the alleged victim was of legal age.

The Supreme Court was also asked to consider the appeal by the Crown that Morrison was not given the mandatory one-year minimum sentence.  The trial judge gave Morrison a four month sentence, and ruled that the one year mandatory minimum sentence found in the Criminal Code was unconstitutional as it violated the guarantees found in the Charter against cruel and unusual punishment. However, the majority of the justices did not rule on this issue.

Given the potential ramifications resulting from the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R. v. Morrison, we will continue to follow any developments in the news and the case law and will report any updates that become available in this blog.

In the meantime, if you are facing child luring charges or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal defence lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights.  For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour telephone service.  We are available when you need us most.