Mr. Justice Peter Fraser of the B.C. Supreme Court made some questionable statements last week while passing sentence on Fred Church.
He described Church's crimes against adolescents of both genders as "amateurish sexual fumblings" at the lower end of sexual offences. It's true that many sex offenders do worse things. Most importantly, Church's crimes did not involve violence. Instead, he lured his 13- and 14-year-old victims by offering them adult enticements such as alcohol and the opportunity to drive. He used his position of respect in the community to bring the children to his home without raising suspicions. And under the pretense of practising reflexology, he abused the children in ways that might raise eyebrows even when practised between consenting adults.
If Church had done such a thing once, it might be reasonable to consider it a case of amateurish fumbling. But he repeated the same, bizarre pattern of escalating abuse with each child. This has the appearance of a practised technique.
Justice Fraser was also on shaky ground when he questioned the necessity of sex offender treatment, citing Church's advanced age (he is 70) and voluntary decision to withdraw from his many charitable activities after being arrested in 2002. The Crown prosecutor rightly argued that mere age would not prevent Church re-offending (after all, he was 68 when he committed these crimes), and neither would a court order necessarily stop him. A forensic psychiatric report ordered by the court recommended Church be evaluated for treatment, and ultimately Fraser ordered that evaluation.
Finally, Fraser's statement that "while the public may not understand it conditional sentences are often tougher than time in custody" is difficult to believe. If that were true, surely criminals would be asking judges to give them jail time rather than house arrest.
In the real world, offenders, including Church, try to get a sentence of house arrest whenever possible. Conditional sentences last longer than jail sentences, as Justice Fraser stated, but in this case the "severe restrictions on personal freedom" he cited amount to an 11 p.m. curfew and a no-contact order with children under 16 - hardly severe restrictions.