Benjamin Levin sentencing hearing begins

Child pornography files found on a computer belonging to a man who was once deputy education minister for Ontario and Manitoba were described in graphic detail Monday as his sentencing hearing got underway in a Toronto courtroom.

WARNING: Some readers may find the details of this story disturbing

Benjamin Levin sentencing

7 years ago
Duration 2:04
A sentencing hearing began Monday for Benjamin Levin.

A father of three who was once deputy education minister in Ontario and Manitoba encouraged people he met online to sexually abuse their children as part of "sadomasochistic" fantasies, his sentencing hearing was told Monday.

But whether Benjamin Levin's behaviour had the potential to cause real harm to children remained in dispute.

Levin, 63, pleaded guilty to three child pornography-related charges last month — he was originally charged with seven child porn-related offences.

A forensic psychiatrist called to testify by Levin's lawyer determined in an assessment that Levin had a "pedophilic interest in children" but that his behaviours were at "a fantasy level."

Levin had "distorted beliefs" that his fantasies were harmless, but he did not engage in any sexual abuse, said Dr. Julian Gojer.

Benjamin Levin, the former Ontario deputy minister of education and a former professor at University of Toronto leaves a Toronto court on March 3. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

"He's talked about sadistic acts involving children," Gojer said. "There's no indication Mr.Levin has actually had hands-on behaviour or sought out sexual contact with children."

The risk in Levin's behaviour was the impact his fantasies may have had with the people he discussed them with online, Gojer suggested.

Crown prosecutors argued, however, that Levin's behaviour crossed into the realm of reality on occasion.

During a business trip to Amsterdam, Levin met in person with a man from England with whom he had discussed the sexual abuse of children, said Crown prosecutor Patricia Garcia.

The man had said in online chats that he was a parent, she noted, and Levin had said online that he fantasized about sexual acts with them.

'A step along a chain of predation'

Gojer said Levin told him he and the man hadn't discussed the sexual abuse of children when they met in person, and noted that there was no way of knowing if the man really had children.

But Garcia emphasized the potential risk associated with the meeting.

"Moving to a physical face to face meeting with a parent...that represents a step along a chain of predation and it moves it along to actually offending a child," Garcia suggested.

"It has that potential," Gojer conceded.

Garcia hammered away at Gojer, repeatedly questioning him on Levin's potential to have caused real harm.

"Your diagnosis and rendering of your opinion with regard to risk is premised on Mr. Levin having constrained his offending to the online world," Garcia said.

"Meeting a man in person is a departure from that constraining...we're not in the fantasy world any more, we're in reality."

Levin also had a voice chat with a person he met online, Garcia noted, an occurrence which wasn't noted in Gojer's psychiatric assessment.

Levin has said in a written statement that he's "deeply ashamed" of his actions.

Earlier in the day, court heard descriptions of child pornography files found on a computer belonging to Levin which were considered child pornography.

The images themselves, and two videos, were shown only to the judge presiding over the case, but court heard that all of them involved girls under the age of 18, with many of them considered pre-pubescent.

Levin's lawyer, Clayton Ruby, noted, however, that among the about 2,000 pornographic images found, only a small portion — some 14 images and two videos — were found to be child pornography.

When asked to comment on that observation, Gojer said the numbers indicated that from a visual perspective Levin had a limited interest in child pornography.

"This individual's fantasies were fuelled more by chats," he said.

Court has heard that Levin used to frequent an online website with numerous chatrooms for the discussion of sexual activities.

His profile on the site was created in 2010 and indicated his sexuality as "nothing is taboo."

Among the people he chatted with were an undercover officer in Toronto, one in London, Ont., and one in New Zealand — all posing as women interested in sexual activities with children.

Court heard that while Levin didn't think the profiles of the undercover officers were real, he didn't ask or suggest if they were fake, nor did he explicitly suggest that his exchanges with them were intended to be pure fantasy.

Levin was arrested in July 2013 when a search warrant was executed at his home.

His lawyer is seeking a sentence of two years in a penitentiary, while the Crown is seeking up to three years and eight months behind bars.

Levin's sentencing hearing is expected to last another two days.

With files from CBC News