Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
'Deal with the devil' a good move
WHITEWOOD, Sask. - It's amazing what you can find sometimes when you're not even looking.I came out to this eastern Saskatchewan town this week, with plans to re-interview some of the key figures involved in last summer's tragic Peter Whitmore abduction/sex assault case.The idea was to do a feature marking the one-year anniversary of the high-profile case.Yet the future feature quickly gave way to some blockbuster breaking news after I learned Whitmore had struck what is sure to be a controversial plea bargain with justice officials.The result was a national exclusive that is surely going to be the subject of much water cooler debate.The issue is pretty simple - should justice officials have done a so-called Deal With The Devil?Whitmore is going to plead guilty to his crimes and, in exchange, receive the harshest sentence in Canadian law - life. Of course, because Whitmore didn't kill anyone, that means he is eligible for parole after serving just seven years.When - or if - he gets out, Whitmore will remain the subject of parole conditions until the day he dies. Any breaches would land him right back behind bars, provided they are caught before its too late.
In exchange for his plea, the two young victims are spared from testifying. That's a good thing in my book. They went through hell. And forcing them to re-live it on the witness stand, in full view of the public, can't be healthy.But here's the rub. The Crown had to give something up. And that was agreeing NOT to pursue a dangerous offender designation against Whitmore. Such a label is very rare in Canada (Paul Bernardo has it) and means a criminal is jailed indefinitely, and likely forever. There is no expiration date. No parole eligibility. No hope, really.That was likely the deal breaker here. Whitmore gets some slim hope to cling to, in exchange for bringing a sudden end to a shocking case.Yet something tells me the majority aren't going to see this in a very positive light.The public - especially folks out this way - will see it as another example of the justice system cowering to criminals. Whitmore's history is well known. The man has multiple sex-related convictions spanning more than a decade and probably never should have been out last summer to even be able to commit these crimes.And the fact the justice system would do anything but go for the throat will leave an awful taste in many mouths.Surprisingly, a voice of reason in all this comes from the family of the 10-year-old Saskatchewan boy. They aren't happy with the deal. But they're not angry at it either. They realize the clock can't be turned back to undo what happened to their son and the other young victim from Winnipeg. And they realize that no matter what sentence Whitmore gets, it won't change a single thing for the boys.Smartly, they are focusing on the future. On channeling the anger over what happened to them on making some positive changes to ensure people like Whitmore don't have the opportunities to attack innocent families like them.Once the court case is finally behind them, they plan to become extremely vocal on the national stage in petitioning Ottawa for tougher legislation. And they clearly have an audience in the federal Conservatives. That's a good thing.So here's my take on all this. Saskatchewan justice is doing the right thing in playing ball with Whitmore and cutting this deal - despite (unwisely, in retrospect) vowing no such deals would be made last summer.Look, there's no way in hell Whitmore is pleading guilty and agreeing to a dangerous offender designation. Why would anyone do that? There's no incentive. It'd be like pleading guilty to first-degree murder. It just doesn't happen.So, if the Crown insisted on that, then we go to trial. And the victims are forced to be examined. And cross-examined. And then a verdict is rendered and, likely, a sentencing hearing begins.And it is entirely possible the end result would be exactly the same - a life sentence. As I said earlier, dangerous offender labels are hard to come by. They're not slam dunks.Peter Whitmore may never get parole. He might not even survive the seven years behind bars before he's eligible. Or, he might make a stunning turnaround, get out one day and then, hopefully, be watched like a hawk.But as the family of the Saskatchewan victim told me this week, that's not their focus anymore. They have their sights set on much bigger things then Whitmore. And I say good for them.Agree? Disagree? Post your thoughts below.