Copyright © 1996 by Chad Skelton. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission.
January 25, 1996
by Chad Skelton <[email protected]>
On October 21, 1993, at 1:15 in the afternoon, police executed a search warrant at the Mississauga home of Joseph Pecchiarich. While the 19-year-old Pecchiarich waited downstairs, the four officers searched his room and took apart his computer. What they found were stories and images depicting sex with children.
Pecchiarich was arrested and charged as part of Project Front Door, a Metro Toronto police investigation into a variety of computer-related crimes. One and a half years later, Pecchiarich -- who used the alias Recent Zephyr on computer bulletin boards -- became the first person in Canada convicted of distributing child pornography via computer. However, there was one thing missing from this child pornography -- children. Pecchiarich never photographed or filmed actual kids. Children were only having sex in two places -- his mind, and his computer.
One of the stories Pecchiarich wrote was "The Forestwood Kids". Pecchiarich, a Grade 11 drop-out, used to live on Forestwood Drive, a few kilometres east of where he lives today. Told from the perspective of a sixteen-year- old boy named Joey, the story is on the Internet and can be found in an obscure file site at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Over 40 pages long with 28 separate chapters, the story -- with many spelling and grammatical errors -- portrays Joey having sex with several female children, some as young as five. The children are always depicted as willing sexual partners. In one scene a five-year-old girl, Alison, initiates sex with Joey. Her mother, Florance, encourages his behaviour. Later, Joey takes an interest in a ten-year-old girl:
"I kept wanting to ask Jammie for [her] to be my girlfriend, but I was having trouble. What would people think, seeing someone 16 with someone that was only 10 years old. Not just that but she was only 4' 8" and I was 5' 7" almost a foot taller."
In another scene, Joey has sex with Florance, an adult. "This would be something very new to me," he writes. "Florance was a woman!" But as the scene continues, he finds he isn't aroused by adult sex. "I felt nothing," Joey says.
Material like this is anything but rare. In two days on the widely available Internet newsgroup, alt.sex.stories, there were 36 explicit sexual stories posted -- at least ten depicted sex involving teenagers or children.
The newsgroup is available on almost all Internet services, as is Pecchiarich's story The Forestwood Kids, providing you know where to look. One such service is The Wire, in Toronto. The Wire is notable because it employs Kevin Blumberg as one of its system administrators -- perhaps the one man most responsible for the arrest of Joseph Pecchiarich. Blumberg was hired part-time by the Metro Toronto police in the Summer of 1993 to search for illegal material on computer bulletin boards. In all, nine people were charged under Project Front Door - five related to pornography, three for illegal software copying, and one for both.
I met Blumberg for the first time at the TSEatery in downtown Toronto. He apologized for not being very alert. He had been working on The Wire's computer system all night, he said, and hadn't got much sleep.
Wearing a Superman tie, and smoking duMaurier Lights, Blumberg is not your typical cyberspace freedom fighter. His vision of the Internet is a strictly controlled, and regulated entity. All that is needed to bring his vision about, he says, is the co-operation of the international community and, "a billion dollars." What he envisions is a system that would restrict material on the Internet based on the laws of the country the material was entering. Blumberg insists strict regulation of the Internet is needed, or governments, out of frustration, will shut off access altogether.
He dismisses the free speech argument held by many on the Internet as a, "US civil libertarian bias."
"I'm sure these are the same people who would walk in downtown New York without thinking of it as being dangerous," he says. "These are the same people who probably have a gun. I don't like stereotyping these people - but quite frankly, I don't agree with them."
Blumberg's current role at The Wire doesn't involve decisions about content. And despite his strong views on Internet "regulation" (he bristles at the term "censorship"), he's glad he doesn't have to make tough decisions about Internet content. "I'm trying to stay as far away from that area as possible," he says. "I'm enjoying dealing with computers, specifics."
Blumberg is in many ways the classic computer nerd. As we leave the restaurant, he makes one last comment - noting how the judge in the Pecchiarich case had problems understanding some of his testimony at the trial. It's hard to make people that don't know much about computers understand sometimes, he laments.
Dr. Peter Collins, a pedophilia expert at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto, also testified at Pecchiarich's trial. While he wouldn't speak specifically about the case, he said pedophilic fantasies usually involve twisted views about children's sexuality. "Pedophiles have what's known as cognitive distortion, or in essence `screwed up thinking'," says Collins. "They truly believe what they're doing is right. They truly believe that relationships with kids, and having sex with kids, is a positive thing ... In their minds, kids can consent."
"I love young children," Pecchiarich wrote at one point, "and would love to do everything in my stories that I've written, however that time has not come."
Though there is no evidence that Pecchiarich ever sexually assaulted children, many of those involved with the case argue it was inevitable. Dr. Collins says the "vast majority" of pedophiles eventually assault children. Dr. Ron Langevin, a Toronto expert in sexual deviancy, concedes it's true that some use pornography as a "build-up" to actual assault. "(But) they can also be using it as a surrogate, so they won't act out," he says, "You have to look at the individual, and his motivations ... You can't just make a blanket statement."
David Jones, of Electronic Frontier Canada, a cyberspace civil rights group, says the debate over whether Pecchiarich would have assaulted real children is irrelevant. "Last time I checked, we don't convict people in advance of the crime," he says.
Pecchiarich was arrested for distributing child pornography under Section 163.1, which was debated in parliament as Bill C-128. The bill became law on August 1, 1993, in one of the last acts of the federal Progressive Conservative government. It made possession of child pornography a crime where previously only distribution was illegal. More notably, it broadened the definition of child pornography to include not only pornography that involved real children, but that which depicted children involved in sex, or advocated sex with a child under the age of 18.
"Up until 1993, it was rare for us to become involved in a child pornography investigation," says Sgt. Bob Matthews of the OPP's anti-porn unit Project P. "But since that date, we've done virtually nothing but child pornography investigations."
One of the ideas behind the law is that the harm caused by child pornography extends beyond the direct abuse of children in its production. "My concern about child pornography stems from what I see as the potential of this material for triggering or promoting child sexual abuse," says Dr. Howard Barbaree, another expert on pedophilia at the Clarke Institute. "Whether the child portrayed is a real person or not."
Last year, Eli Langer, a Toronto painter, was charged under the law for paintings depicting children engaged in sex acts. After a lengthy trial, Langer's work was returned because of an exception in the law for work that has "artistic merit." His lawyer, Frank Addario, appealed the decision anyway, in hopes of having the law ruled unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the appeal.
Addario believes the law is unnecessary, and that the driving force behind it was political. "There was a federal election coming," he says. "All four parties supported it." Furthermore, he believes the law has little effect on child abuse in this country.
"It's an absolute fantasy world," says Addario, "to think that if we just pass enough laws, and if they're just broad enough, and mean enough, and powerful enough -- that we'll wipe out all evil in the world. It's a pipe dream ... We have to get to the root of the problem, and quit pretending that if we wipe out expressive materials -- literature, images -- that we will somehow wipe out the disease (of pedophilia). It's not true."
A. Alan Borovoy, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, agrees. "I would think it rather naive to think that if the material we're talking about were purged, that pedophiles would then take up stamp collecting," says Borovoy. "To whatever extent pedophiles are dangerous to kids, I can't imagine they'd be significantly less dangerous without child pornography."
"The great majority of all kinds of sex offenders do not use pornography on a regular basis," says Dr. Langevin. "If anything, sex offenders use it less than the average male." What about those experts who suggest a connection? "They haven't bothered to recognize their whole notion of fantasy and pornography is not correct. It's just not there."
There is evidence that Pecchiarich himself followed the debate over Bill C-128. When police searched his room in 1993, they found newspaper clippings about the proposed child pornography law. According to Kevin Blumberg, Pecchiarich posted several messages on computer bulletin boards under his alias, Recent Zephyr, arguing against the bill.
The questions raised by the Pecchiarich case are complicated by the fact that he created images that did involve real children. Those images -- some in colour, some in black and white -- were the product of low-end digital manipulation. With the use of a computer scanner, he scanned store catalogue pictures of children modeling underwear and swimsuits into his computer. He then used a graphics program, manipulating the pictures to look like children engaged in sex acts. Moving limbs, drawing in genitalia, and placing children into poses with others, he created crude pictures of children having sex. Those who have seen the pictures describe them as "amateurish" and "cut and paste jobs". But the children's faces are clearly visible.
"It was actual children," says Philip Enright, crown prosecutor in the Pecchiarich case. "Those were actual little girls, and actual little boys. And I'm sure if you asked their actual parents, who I'm sure had no idea the images of their children were being used by perverts, being distributed to untold numbers of other pedophiles out there ... they'd be horrified."
But most experts say that pedophiles are aroused by catalogue pictures even if they aren't manipulated. "Whatever harm exists, exists independent of what Joe Pecchiarich did," says David Jones. "So I think it's fair to ask: what incremental harm was caused, if any?"
The images Pecchiarich created did not look like actual photographs. But they easily could have. David Jones points to movies like Jurassic Park as examples of how realistic computer images can look. "This is not a futuristic question," he says. "We can do this now." How long before that technology is in the homes of people like Pecchiarich is another question. And should the quality of the images change how we respond?
There are a lot of complex issues involved in this case. Unfortunately, few of them were discussed at trial. That's because Pecchiarich's lawyer, John Collins, didn't challenge the constitutionality of the law, or whether the material seized was, in fact, child pornography. The entire defence rested on trying to prove that the creator and distributor of the material -- Recent Zephyr -- was not Pecchiarich. This, despite the fact that he had copies of the stories and pictures on his computer, and that police found a manila folder in his room labeled, "Recent Zephyr's Software and Such" containing three printouts of The Forestwood Kids. "I was disappointed that the defence was not more vigorous," says David Jones. "Given that this is a precedent-setting case, it would have been instructive for us to learn ... what crosses the line and what doesn't. The defence counsel threw away that opportunity."
Reached by phone at his office, John Collins refused to comment on why he didn't raise a constitutional defence, or argue the material was not pornographic. Asked why he wouldn't discuss the case he became angry, almost shouting, "I don't have to give you any reasons!"
Pecchiarich was convicted and sentenced in July 1995 to two years probation, and 150 hours of community service. Justice Geraldine Sparrow also ordered him to receive psychiatric help, ignoring the crown's calls for a "symbolic jail sentence." Pecchiarich could have been sent to jail for up to ten years, as the law makes no distinction between real and fictional child pornography. Sparrow also refused the crown's request that Pecchiarich be denied the right to own a computer, accepting a defence argument that it may be his only source of livelihood in the future.
Since the arrest, the Pecchiarich family have changed their phone number. At their semi-detached home on Millway Gate in Mississauga -- where Pecchiarich lives with his mother, step-father, and sister -- the numbers identifying the address have apparently been removed. When I asked to speak to Joseph Pecchiarich, an unidentified woman who answered the door was quick to reply, "I think you better leave ... that person does have a right to privacy."
Neighbours on Millway Gate say they didn't know Joseph Pecchiarich very well. Mrs. McMahon, who lives next door to the Pecchiarich home, says he used to shovel her driveway and mow her lawn, but she hasn't seen him since the arrest.
The material Pecchiarich created leaves little doubt that he had pedophilic fantasies. But having fantasies about sex with children is not against the law. Pecchiarich is a criminal because he wrote those fantasies down.
The argument that this law is too broad and too vague is a compelling one. In the last two years, it has put an artist through a lengthy and costly trial, and given Joseph Pecchiarich, a man whose involvement with children ended on his hard drive, a criminal record. Society has an obligation to protect its children. But it's not clear this law does that.
"They're barking up the wrong tree," says Frank Addario. "And the most painful thing, the most frustrating part about it, is that they're selling the community a bill of goods. `Just give us the tools to wipe this garbage out, and we'll wipe out pedophilia and the sexual abuse of children.' It's errant nonsense -- they won't."
Copyright © 1996 Chad Skelton.