RICHMOND, B.C. – A British Columbia judge expressed “concern” that a convicted pedophile had installed software designed to conceal computer activity on a laptop he admitted owning in breach of conditions that had allowed him freedom in Canada.
Judge Patrick Chen, who first curbed Christopher Neil’s freedom in fall 2012, sentenced him to three months jail time and three years probation for breaking conditions. Accounting for time already served, the jail portion of the sentence will last 48 days.
Neil, who was dubbed “Swirl Face” by international media for disguising his face in videos, gained worldwide notoriety after his 2007 arrest and convictions for abducting a minor and an indecent act on a minor.
He was deported back to Canada after serving his prison sentence in Thailand, and was promptly arrested when he landed at Vancouver’s airport under a law meant to protect the public.
“In my view, the breaches are serious,” Chen said in Richmond, B.C., provincial court, noting the conditions were aimed at giving Neil the opportunity to prove himself no longer dangerous. “It’s not clear there’s a full understanding how serious these breaches are.”
Neil pleaded guilty last fall to possessing a device capable of accessing the Internet after his arrest about 10 months into the 18-month period of conditions.
Crown lawyer Gerri-Lyn Nelson asked the judge to sentence Neil to five to six months jail time and three years probation, arguing he made a serious breach that goes to the heart of the original conditions.
Nelson also told the court Neil declined a psychological assessment ordered by Chen, which he was “entitled” to do, but that leaves the judge with limited data about his risk to re-offend gathered before the new offence.
“Really, we’re treating him as an untreated sex offender, that’s all we can do,” she told court. “The result has to be jail, we don’t have any other alternatives.”
Neil’s lawyer, Mark Thompson, asked for time served and up to six months probation for his client.
He said that although Vancouver police seized a laptop, two cellphones and an e-reader from Neil, there was no evidence any other devices had been connected online.
Neil purchased the laptop because he wanted to write an account of his time in the Thailand prison, court heard as part of the agreed statement of facts.
Thompson added the judge should apply several mitigating factors in sentencing, including that Neil attended all court appearances, co-operated with the statement of facts and there was no suggestion of other breaches.
“He’s treated much differently because of his background,” Thompson said outside court after sentencing. “Are we going to throw the maximum sentence at him every time? That’s not the way we do it. It’s his first offence in Canada.”
Thompson asked the court for clarification just as he began his submissions on whether the Crown was alleging child pornography had been detected on the laptop. Nelson had presented a list of sexual content police apparently found on the computer in an earlier hearing, but made no mention of it on Tuesday.
“Since Crown’s not alleging child pornography on the computer …” Thompson said as he began his submissions.
In his ruling, Chen noted Neil’s pre-sentencing report said the man regrets his offending behaviour and he knows he should have waited until after the conditions expired to obtain a laptop. Chen also said Neil denied using the device to view child pornography.
“What we are concerned with here is the prevention of criminal behaviour with the intention of protecting society,” Chen said.
Neil has accrued 42 days in jail to date after being arrested in late March on 10 new charges. Half allege violations since he returned to Canada while the other are much more serious and fall under Canada’s laws against child-sex tourism.
He has been held in custody since March, when a Port Coquitlam judge rejected his bail application.
Neil’s criminal history, based on his overseas convictions, dates back a decade when he apparently went abroad because he couldn’t find work in Canada.
It wasn’t until Neil was teaching English in South Korea when Interpol widely broadcast his image that had been unravelled in 2007, touching off an international manhunt. Hundreds of tips poured in, helping investigators track him down to a remote part of Thailand where he had fled.