It was a long day at the court house – the trial of Prof. Benjamin Levin (a.k.a. Ben Levin) was about to resume at 10 in the morning, but was postponed for the afternoon. When everything started a few months ago, there was very little media interest. Today a crowd of reporters, journalists and concerned citizens waited for hours near the courtroom door. A large group of cameramen and photographers, braving the snow and the wind, flocked around the courthouse’s entrance for the chance to catch a glimpse of Levin.
At about 2 p.m. he showed up, accompanied by his lawyers – Clayton Ruby and his partner G. Chan. The hearing started half an hour later. As it was announced in advance, Ben Levin was to plead guilty to three of the charges, related to making of child pornography, possession of the same, and counselling an adult to commit sexual assault on a child.
The judge asked if Levin was prepared to plead guilty and Ruby confirmed it. She then asked if he has been under pressure to plead, Levin stated that it was his decision. The court clerk read the three charges. After that Levin was asked to choose between a trial by judge and jury or only by judge. Ruby said that they chose the second option. Finally, Levin pleaded guilty.
The Crown, presented by two ladies, Ms. Garcia and a second one whose name I missed, introduced the evidence in a huge volume (probably over 600 pages). It contained transcripts of Levin’s incriminating online chats, photographs and other documents – many of the pages were going to be sealed permanently to protect children’s identities. A redacted copy of the volume was to be provided to the media. That was followed by introduction of the facts that were the basis of the charges.
Before going into details, let me state that Levin’s online activities were extremely disturbing, so the facts are “x-rated”. Also, bear in mind that the person those facts describe was:
– Professor of education at OISE at the University of Toronto
– Deputy Minister of Education (under Kathleen Wynne) in the Government of the Province of Ontario
– Participant in creating school curricula
– Not afraid of getting caught – unlike the “sophisticated” pedophiles we see on CSI, who hide well, he was using his easily traceable Rogers e-mail account to do whatever he was doing online
Mr. Levin got caught thanks to the global investigations conducted by the Toronto Police Service, Child Exploitation Unit after he attracted their attention as a member of a website that for now should remain anonymous due to other ongoing investigations. The site offers chat rooms labeled “teens” and “incest”. He joined it in 2010 and in his profile he indicated his gender as “couple,” his sexuality as “nothing is taboo” and his location as “Canada”. Mr. Levin also added to the profile: “couple, both in late 50s, 3 grown daughters” and “love to chat with other parents and daughters”. He frequented the “incest” section and communicated with users, some of whom expressed interest in sex with children.
His profile was visited over 5,000 times, had 29 subscribers, and was marked as “Favorite” by 44 users. He used a Rogers e-mail address for communication. Detective Constable J.B. (female) had a profile at the site as part of her undercover investigation, where she was depicted as a sexually submissive, young single mother with interest in sexualizing children.
In August 2012, Mr. Levin initiated a chat with J.B. asking her about the ages of her children. She replied that she had 2 daughters aged 8 and 14. He then engaged in sexualized conversation about the girls, urging the mother to engage in sexual touching. In the same discussion, he claimed that he sexually abused his own daughters and other children when they were as young as 12 years old and encouraged J.B. to do the same. (Here the Crown noted that there was no additional evidence that Mr. Levin sexually abused his daughters or other children.)
In December of the same year, another female Detective Constable (from London, Ontario) – A.J. – established connection with Mr. Levin. She had the profile of a single mother with 3 children. Again, in the chat he encouraged her to be more sexual with her children. He also mentioned that he and his wife had been sexually active with their own daughters when they were 12, 13, and 16 years of age. Mr. Levin wished he had a son, but nevertheless he claimed he had abused a couple of boys. He expressed hope that his daughters would “share” their own children (his grandchildren) with him and his wife.
He also expressed the desire to have sexual intercourse with A.J.’s three children (who according to her profile were 12, 10, and 8 years old). Mr. Levin introduced her to another user with sexual interest in children.
In January 2013, Mr. Levin bumped into another investigator, this time male – R.J.G. – working for Internal Affairs in New Zealand. He had the profile of a single adult female, interested in incest fantasies. During the chats, Mr. Levin claimed again to having sexually abused children as young as 12 years old and expressed desire to do it again in the future. He also sent to R.J.G. an image of a female with a gagged girl with bound hands and ankles and a leash, with the comment:“mmm, so hot to imagine a mother doing that to her girl to please her lover.”
He sent to the same person more images: naked female with a blindfold and exposed vagina, next to a male with a whip; crying little girl with smeared makeup and his comment “used somewhat roughly by her mother’s lover”; two girls wearing bikinis with the words “fuck me” and “I’m sexy” written on their abdomens. Mr. Levin noted in his chats with R.J.G. that he believed many online users are “fakes”. He proposed to R.J.G. to hook him up with other parents, who abuse their children, claiming that he had a girlfriend in New Zealand with a 13-year old daughter.
In June 2013, R.J.G. suggested that Mr. Levin write a story – he wrote a tale dealing with the sexual assault of a 10 year old child. In the same month, the Toronto investigator J.B. used another profile to contact Mr. Levin – she claimed she was a mother sexually attracted to her 8 year old daughter and requested tips from him. He instructed J.B. on how to groom the child to get her “used to” sex, suggesting exposure to pornography, being nude and masturbating in front of the child.
In response, the “mother” told him that she followed his advice. Mr. Levin continued the “session” by telling her that she needs to “play” with the child in order to “prepare her for being fucked”. He also recommended that J.B. spank her child for her own pleasure and digitally penetrate her. It was fine, if the child cried and she should understand that more would be done to her. Mr. Levin went further by proposing that the three of them engage in sexual activity, with him as their “master”.
The Crown emphasized that Mr. Levin displayed a conscious disregard of the substantial and unjustified risk inherent in this counselling of J.B.’s undercover profile to perform various sexual assaults on the child. In other words, he knowingly counselled J.B. to sexually assault her daughter while aware of the unjustified risk that the offence counselled was in fact likely to be committed as a result of his conduct.
Another interesting bit of information was that Mr. Levin conducted the same activity from many countries – he logged into the site while travelling to different places. He was spotted in British Columbia, and even in Norway, shortly after posting on his Facebook page “En route to Bergen, Norway, for the first of two workshops with Norwegian municipal leaders in education”.
Finally, on July 8, 2013, a search warrant was executed at his home and he was arrested. The police seized 3 laptops, 11 flash drives, memory card, cell phone and an external hard drive. They discovered 79 files of child pornography (15 images readily accessible and the rest in system-generated folders created automatically without Mr. Levin’s knowledge by Yahoo Messenger). The forensic search also recovered a deleted document compiled by him with information about approximately 1750 people with whom he was communicating online, with information about their sexual interests and contacts with children.
In the end the Crown pointed out that Mr. Levin never believed he was chatting with an underage child; he never sought a video chat with the three contacts and never requested an in-person meeting with them or their children. After he was arrested, the police issued a press release calling for potential victims to come forward, but so far nobody has come forward.
Now, dear readers, you can go and take a shower. Once you are done, we can continue with the trial.
After the reading of the facts, the judge asked Mr. Levin if they are correct. He agreed that they were correct.
Then Clayton Ruby took the initiative to refute some of the findings of the Crown. He attacked the paragraph above that I highlighted (about the substantial and unjustified risk to the child). Since the profile was fake, he argued, there was no actual danger. The offense was only possible, but it didn’t actually occur and that reduces the argument about the risk. In this case, the likelihood of the offense taking place is very low.
Then he went into discussing the semantic differences between “probability, likelihood and possibility”. In this specific case the undercover officer must prove that Mr. Levin sincerely believed that he was dealing with a real mother. In the chats Mr. Levin emphasized that certain profiles were fake.
The Crown countered with the point about Mr. Levin’s intention – he ignored the potential harm to the child and recommended certain sexual activities and he was definitely aware of the harm those activities would cause.
Here the judge noted that Mr. Levin treated the other site member as a mother and he should have known the risk in his proposal.
The Crown continued that his actions could be interpreted as simply trying to get sexual gratification from the chat, but the problem is that he also sent an image to the officer, illustrating his advice. This is not just dirty talk – it also includes coaching about how to commit sexual offense.
The judge noted that the difficulty remains – he might have thought that the mother was not real. The Crown responded that the intent is still the major point.
The judge continued that the difficulty remains with regard to the reality of the user Mr. Levin communicated with. He pleads guilty, but the nature of the risk he creates remains unclear. If this issue is not clarified, the judge may need to declare mistrial, because as of now Mr. Levin has only admitted to the facts, but the potential damage is not covered. That issue must be resolved.
Then the judge asked Mr. Levin’s defense if the section 517 publication ban should still apply. She thought she could not impose a publication ban (and even the Crown didn’t want it), since there is a significant media interest in the case.
Mr. Chan stated that the defense still needs a publication ban. Mr. Levin agreed. The judge countered with the statement that the trial is practically over, having entered the sentencing stage, so publication ban is not necessary.
The discussion then moved to Mr. Levin’s supervision – he is not supposed to use internet and many other forms of communication (especially with children) unsupervised. The Crown argued that his wife was not a suitable supervisor. The judge asked the defense about their opinion.
Mr. Chan pointed out that Mr. Levin is not allowed to communicate with his daughters in any other way than video communication. His wife is in charge of that in their home and he wants to be able to participate in those conversations.
Does she have all passwords for those programs? (Asked the judge). Mr. Chan confirmed.
Then Ms. Garcia made a point that Mr. Levin has been banned from using the internet because of participation in a group promoting child abuse. His wife is not suitable as a supervisor, because he explicitly stated that she participated in the abuse of their children. We don’t know the extent of her knowledge about his online chats – he always said “we did that…” etc. Those claims are of great concern to the Crown. According to the bail condition, his brothers are the sureties – his wife depends on them, but it is still a risk to let him communicate with his daughters in her presence. A better solution is to do that out of his house, with the sureties present. The police must know which accounts he is using for video communications with his daughters.
Mr. Chan objected emotionally that the Crown attempts character assassination of Mr. Levin’s wife. She hasn’t been charged with anything. One of the previous bail variations even allowed Mr. Levin to go to Halifax to visit his daughter without surety present.
Finally, the judge agreed that Mr. Levin should be allowed to have video communications with his daughters in his wife’s presence. Any violations would bring criminal charges against him and her, along with serious financial costs for the sureties.
The last issue was to schedule the sentencing hearing – it was agreed by all sides that it should commence on April 13 at 10 a.m. and continue, if necessary, for the next two days.
If you continued reading up to this point, maybe you also think that there are quite a few things that need further clarification. Mr. Levin was a prominent functionary of the Liberal Party of Ontario. Isn’t it time to investigate his role in shaping the education programs created by that party’s government?
If he didn’t even try very hard to hide his online escapades, he either was too stupid or thought that the establishment would protect him. A professor is not stupid by definition, so we may need to go with the second option. Judging from the whole collection of crooks and criminals in that establishment, who go unpunished, can you imagine how many more like Mr. Levin cruise the internet grooming parents and kids? Oh wait, they don’t need to do that – the new Ontario sex education curriculum does the entire job for them.
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