Child pornography offences land Kingston man three-and-a-half-year sentence

Kingstonist file photo.

WARNING: This article discusses child pornography-related offences, subject matter which may be disturbing to some readers.

A Kingston resident has been sentenced to three and a half years in custody, as well as a number of other strict orders, in relation to child pornography-related offences.

Stephen John LeClair, a 62-year-old Kingston man, pleaded guilty to three offences in the Superior Court of Justice and was sentenced on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, just over one year after Kingston Police announced his arrest and the charges against him.

LeClair was arrested in February 2022 after being found in possession of child pornography and was subsequently charged. In announcing his arrest, Kingston Police said that the investigation into LeClair and the possession of child pornography had begun two months earlier, in December 2021.

The charges against LeClair at the time of his arrest were:

  • Two counts of possession of child pornography
  • Accessing child pornography
  • Making child pornography

When the charges against him were announced, police also noted that investigators were “aware that Stephen LeClair was an active member within the Port Hope community, specifically [within] the Anglican Church.” At that time, LeClair had listed himself as a treasurer of St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Port Hope on his LinkedIn page.

According to court documents, LeClair pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing child pornography and one count of accessing child pornography. It is unclear what became of the charge against LeClair for “making” child pornography.

LeClair, represented by defence lawyer Michael Rodé of Kingston, appeared before Justice Laurie Lacelle last month for the sentencing. Court documents show that Crown attorney Elisabeth Foxton sought a sentence of four years in prison, while the defence argued that a conditional sentence of two years less a day was “an appropriate sentence in all the circumstances.”

LeClair’s offences

According to court records, LeClair’s offences occurred “in October 2021 and February 2022” and were discovered after Kingston Police “received a report from the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre” regarding LeClair downloading “images constituting child pornography” on October 15, 2021. Police began an investigation in December 2021, and a search warrant was executed at LeClair’s address on February 16, 2022.

“Several computer devices and printed photographs were seized” during the search of LeClair’s residence, according to court records, which continue with specifics.

“Police ultimately determined that the accused had 4,333 images and 37 videos that were classified by investigators as ‘category 1’ images/videos,” the documents state, noting that the redacted report of a Detective Constable Murphy, which was filed as an exhibit on sentencing, indicated there were 4,429 images.

In her decision, Justice Lacelle explained that the images and videos met the definition of child pornography under the Criminal Code of Canada (Criminal Code). LeClair’s “category 1 collection” included images/video of pubescent children, Lacelle wrote, noting that police determined that the “vast majority” of those images/videos depicted pre-pubescent children under 10, including toddlers, engaging in sexual acts. Lacelle’s decision gave further specifics of this content, which Kingstonist is not publishing but which would be easily defined as egregiously heinous and degrading.

Further, according to Lacelle’s descriptions of police findings, LeClair also had 8,900 images and 107 videos that constituted “category 2” images/videos. The judge noted that, again, the figure for this category in the redacted report was higher: 9,846 images and 124 videos. This category “encapsulates images of investigative interest and include[s] images depicting child nudity which do not fit the definition of ‘child pornography’ in the Criminal Code, and images where the ages of the persons depicted [are] not clear.”

“In Mr. LeClair’s case, there were also cartoon images,” Lacelle noted.

Victim impact

According to Lacelle’s decision, the court was presented with eight “community victim impact statements.”  While brief by comparison to all other sections of her decision, Lacelle’s words regarding these statements were poignant.

“It is saddening that some of the images possessed by Mr. LeClair are so widely distributed that it has been possible for law enforcement authorities to identify the children who are depicted,” Lacelle wrote, noting that the victim impact statements were from some of those individuals, as well as their parents, and “describe the impact of the offence of possessing child pornography cases.”

“They are extraordinary in the pain and suffering they describe,” the judge stated.

Lacelle went on to say the victim impact statements involved “consistent themes,” in that many of them described the “crippling insecurity” that the offence causes.

“Victims do not feel safe so long as they know their images continue to circulate. Some victims have been contacted by people who have accessed their images, while others worry that this will happen to them. They worry when they are in public that they will be recognized by persons unknown to them who have accessed images of the worst experience of their lives,” Lacelle said, noting that “the continued existence and sharing of the images causes them to relive their abuse.”

“That the images remain on the internet has also robbed some victims of the ‘motivation to get well’ and has contributed to self-harming behaviours and suicidality,” she said.

“It is difficult to adequately summarize the catastrophic effects the continued proliferation of these images has had on these victims. The statements are gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.”

The offender and expert reports on his probability to offend again

In her decision, Lacelle noted that LeClair is currently 62 years old, lives alone, and has retired from work. He has no children. LeClair’s pre-sentence report described his childhood and family, most of whom maintain relationships with the offender, though they do not allow him to be around their children. The pre-sentence reports stated that LeClair is “highly educated,” that he “pursued his PhD studies in economics,” which he did not complete, and then moved into working for “various governments in a number of cities” until he retired in 2021.

The pre-sentence report also noted that LeClair has had problems with alcohol “at various times” and that he says he didn’t complete his PhD dissertation because he was “so drunk.” The report stated that LeClair relayed he “believed he may have been under the influence of alcohol ‘some of the time’ when he was offending.”

The report further noted that LeClair has been diagnosed with depression and that in 2016 and 2017 he attended a rehabilitation centre due to a brain injury he sustained after falling and hitting his head, after which he suffered two seizures at work prior to his retirement.

The pre-sentence report then moved into the issue of LeClair’s insight into his offences, noting that he “expressed remorse for the offences” and “described the impact of reading the victim impact statements on his understanding of the effects of the offences.”

“He described being ashamed of what he had done and being worried that people will find out about the charges. This has impacted on his participation in organized activities, such as joining a seniors’ club.  He suggested the experience of being charged has been traumatic for him,” Lacelle noted from the pre-sentence report.

Lacelle also noted that LeClair said he “cannot compare his life” to those of his victims, but that he is “affected similarly but to a much lower degree.” She also noted he has “expressed his readiness to engage in counselling and treatment” and that the author of the report concluded LeClair appears “suitable for community supervision.”

Lacelle’s decision then outlined two assessments of LeClair made by mental health professions “at his own initiative.” The first report focused on the impacts of LeClair’s brain injury and concluded it is “unlikely” LeClair “would have engaged in these offences” were it not for the brain injury. The second assessment looked at LeClair’s sexual behaviour, still taking his brain injury into account. The doctor who authored the assessment also carried out various tests, some of which were inconclusive; other results pointed to “a lack of interest in deviant sexuality generally, and in children specifically,” and to LeClair being “at low risk to reoffend.”

Position of the parties – the Crown

Lacelle noted that the Crown was seeking a four-year sentence “in addition to various ancillary orders.” The Crown took issue with the reporting of both doctors who assessed LeClair, noting that one report was “of no assistance, since it is the court’s role to determine moral responsibility.” The Crown argued that the idea that LeClair’s offences only occurred due to his brain injury was moot, since LeClair stated to one of the doctors that he had viewed images of child pornography prior to his injury and “may have liked” them.

Position of the parties – the defence

Lacelle detailed that the defence pointed to “the availability of a conditional sentence,” arguing that such a sentence would “meet the relevant principles of sentencing,” particularly if coupled with three years of probation. The defence counsel said that LeClair was “forthcoming with the doctors who have assessed him” and had “taken steps to understand the issues that led him to offend so that the court might have some insight into his behaviour,” Lacelle wrote.

“Counsel acknowledges that Mr. LeClair had a ‘relatively large collection’ [of pornographic items] but also emphasizes the opinion that Mr. LeClair poses a low risk to reoffend,” the judge noted of the position of the defence.

“In the event that the court is not satisfied that a conditional sentence is appropriate, the defence submits that a ‘short sharp’ jail sentence of 12 months, followed by three years probation, would be fit.”

The decision

Lacelle cited multiple items of case law, and as with many recent cases involving offences against children, the case of R v. Friesen came up repeatedly, with the judge noting that case has “has modernized this country’s approach to sentencing for sexual offences against children, including offences relating to child pornography.”

It is not sufficient for courts to simply state that sexual offences against children are serious. The sentence imposed must reflect the normative character of the offender’s actions and the consequential harm to children and their families, caregivers and communities [citations omitted]. We thus offer some guidance on how courts should give effect to the gravity of sexual offences against children. Specifically, courts must recognize and give effect to (1) the inherent wrongfulness of these offences; (2) the potential harm to children that flows from these offences; and, (3) the actual harm that children suffer as a result of these offences. We emphasize that sexual offences against children are inherently wrongful and always put children at risk of serious harm, even as the degree of wrongfulness, the extent to which potential harm materializes, and actual harm may vary from case to case,” Lacelle wrote, quoting directly from Friesen and adding the underlining herself for emphasis.

Lacelle continued through dozens of case law items, some looking at appropriate range of sentence, some looking at decisions and directives of the Court of Appeal, and some examining pre-Friesen cases (Friesen was decided in 2020). Lacelle then examined mitigating and aggravating factors, as well as the risk to reoffend (she found one of the doctors’ reports pointed to risk being an open issue, and that the other pointed to LeClair’s “low risk to reoffend”). Lacelle also weighed the impact of LeClair’s acquired brain injury. All of those details can be read in the full documentation of Lacelle’s decision.

Lacelle began her conclusion by saying, “Sentencing a person for an offence is a difficult task. There are no precise formulas that apply. A judge must fashion an appropriate sentence for the individual person before her. This is a profoundly individualized process driven by the unique factors of every offence and the unique characteristics of every offender.”

She went on to say that LeClair has “largely lived a responsible life” and has never been sentenced to jail; therefore “the principle of restraint is engaged in determining what sentence is appropriate.”

“He has family support and rehabilitative potential and is not likely to become a repeat offender,” Lacelle continued.

“However,” she went on, “by possessing the thousands of images and many videos that he did, Mr. LeClair has contributed to the ongoing victimization of children. His conduct in possessing these images and videos is part of what produces a market for these images and videos in the first place. His conduct has also harmed children whose vulnerability could not be more clear.”

“The gravity of the offences and Mr. LeClair’s moral blameworthiness for them is high. The harm he has caused is significant. And as Parliament has directed, the principles of denunciation and deterrence must be given the primary consideration in imposing sentence for an offence involving the abuse of children.”

Noting that a jail sentence “must be imposed here to reflect society’s absolute denunciation of these offences and to deter others,” Lacelle found that a sentence “in the upper reformatory range” was insufficient.

“The size of Mr. LeClair’s collection, the nature of the images, and the victim impact are all very weighty aggravating factors. The mitigating factors present in this case do not pull as heavily,” she wrote.

“Giving my best assessment to all the principles and circumstances I must consider,… I conclude that a fit sentence here is one of 3.5 years in custody.”

Citing case law, Lacelle stayed the charge against LeClair for accessing child pornography and ordered that the 3.5-year sentence be applied to the other two counts, “to be served concurrently.”

Lacelle also served LeClair with a DNA order, a Sex Offender Information Registration Act (SOIRA) order for 20 years, and a Section 161 order (restricting LeClair’s access to public parks, schools, and other places where children can be expected to be present, among other restrictions). Further details on these ancillary orders can be read here.

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