The Edmonton Journal
Tuesday, July 6, 1999

Child pornography still against the law in Alberta

Possession challenged in B.C.

by Graham Thomson

Possessing child pornography might be legal in British Columbia but it's still against the law in Alberta.

Anyone caught in possession of the material faces prosecution, say police and Justice Department officials.

"It's business as usual for us", said Annette Bidniak of the Edmonton police department. Police will continue to lay charges under Section 163.1(4) of the Criminal Code, even though the section was ruled unconstitutional by B.C.'s Court of Appeal last week.

The other sections dealing with producing, distributing, and possessing child pornography for the purpose of distribution have not been challenged and continue to provide protection against child pornographers.

The B.C. decision is not binding on other provinces but has sent ripples of anger and fear across the country, with politicians and parents' groups demanding the law be beefed up. The B.C. government says it will appeal the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada, raising the unpleasant possibility that if the province loses its fight, possession of kiddy porn will become legal across the country.

Alberta Justice Minister Dave Hancock is still reviewing the decision to see if the province will participate in the B.C. government's appeal.

To alleviate public concerns, his department says Alberta courts will continue with any cases involving possession of child pornography.

Justice Department spokesperson Bob Scott pointed to the case of Kevin Valley, who was found guilty in March of possession of child pornography by a Court of Queen's Bench justice in Red Deer. Scott said Valley will be sentenced July 15 as scheduled.

Scott and Bidniak could not say how many other cases involving child pornography are before Alberta's courts. Neither could the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics in Ottawa.

University of Alberta law professor Bruce Elman suspects there aren't many cases, and he's appealing for reason amidst the outraged cries from government critics and the fears of parents.

"It's not like you're dealing with open season on children here. I simply don't want people to panic."

Only the subsection of the Criminal Code dealing with simple possession of child pornography is in doubt, he said.

Elman said it's unlikely anyone would be charged with simple possession of child pornography without also being charged under the related sections of the Criminal Code.

John Robin Sharpe, the man at the centre of the B.C. case, goes to trial in October on charges of distributing child pornography.

Justice officials explain their computer system is designed to provide information on cases by name or court docket number, not by type of offence, and so they cannot say how many child pornography cases are before the courts.

Copyright © 1999 by The Edmonton Journal. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.