Dustin Paxton trial raises questions about torture

Dustin Paxton's victim was beaten, starved and mutilated, and there's an effort underway to have people like Paxton be charged with a more serious offence : torture.

Dustin Paxton was found guilty of both aggravated and sexual assault in a Calgary courtroom Monday.

The maximum sentence Paxton could face is 14 years in prison.

The victim, who cannot be named under a court order, was beaten, starved and mutilated — something his family called torture, but which Paxton could not be charged with under the current law. But there's an effort underway to have people like Paxton be charged with a more serious offence — torture.

Dustin Paxton was found guilty Monday of aggravated and sexual assault. (Sharon Sargent)

"There's a level of brutality that goes on with torture that goes beyond an assault," said human rights activist Jeanne Sarson.

Sarson has been lobbying the federal government to change the Criminal Code for nearly two decades. Right now, only government officials like police and military officers can be charged with torture and not regular citizens.

In a statement from the family of Paxton’s victim, they wish "to have the government of Canada recognize torture as a separate crime with recourse and retribution fitting and suitable so that sufferers will not feel re-victimized by the trivialization of what they had to endure."

Criminologist warns of pitfalls

Doug King, a criminologist at Mount Royal University, says it would be extremely difficult to convict someone of torture. He said a torture offence would probably have to include different elements, such as assault, forcible confinement and threats — but if there wasn’t sufficient evidence on one of those elements the accused could walk.   

"That’s probably not the strongest way to go to make sure people who do these things, like Paxton did, are held accountable for their actions," said King.

He feels the case against Paxton was handled properly. The Crown provided enough evidence that the judge found Paxton guilty of aggravated and sexual assault, but not of unlawful confinement, which could have caused a problem if Paxton was charged with torture.

"We have to be very careful about bundling offences together," said King.