On Feb.19, Christyna Caldwell, a 16-year-old from Harding, launched a petition to see Canadian law broaden the designation of Dangerous Offender, to protect children, in particular, from sexual predators.
It was the story of a family friend that stirred her to action.
When Caldwell heard of the abduction and sexual abuse that family friend Zach Miller endured as a 10-year-old child and the fact that the perpetrator was a repeat offender, she decided to do what she could.
Miller and another boy suffered two days of imprisonment in a vacant Saskatchewan farmhouse near Kipling, Sask., where they were sexually abused under threat of death by Peter Whitmore before they were rescued by police.
Whitmore was arrested that day in 2006 when the RCMP came to investigate a van that was parked in an abandoned Saskatchewan farm yard. They were looking for the missing boys.
Whitmore was subsequently convicted of abduction and sexual assault and received a life sentence. He made a bargain - pleading guilty to spare the boys having to testify in court - if he was not given the Dangerous Offender designation.
He had committed similar crimes, preying upon children over a 10-year period, being arrested, convicted and released after serving sentences.
Had he been designated a Dangerous Offender early on, everything might have been different for Miller and the other child. The terms of sentencing are different for a Dangerous Offender and the community is alerted when a Dangerous Offender is released on parole.
Caldwell’s petition is to lobby the federal Justice Department to add sexual interference to the definition of serious personal injury offences – all part of the definition within Dangerous Offender designation.
The petition can be found at https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-2426
Caldwell’s effort has received media attention. She’s been interviewed by CBC radio on the Noon Show as well as a number of other media outlets.
For a petition to be presented to Canadian Justice department, it must have at least 500 names. The petition has had far more success that that. As of Wednesday, Mar. 4, 1280 people had signed the online document.
In a Q & A, Caldwell speaks about her decision to take action.
Empire-Advance: What did you feel when you found out about what Zach had gone through?
Caldwell: It broke my heart. Its awful what Zach went through. No one should ever have to experience what Zach and all other child sexual abuse survivors experienced. Zach is one of my biggest inspirations, how he has taken such a horrific event and now draws from that to help others. The entire Miller family are amazing, inspirational people and I am so thankful to have them in my life!
E-A: What gave you the resolve to start the petition?
C: I see how hard the Miller Family is working to educate and protect children and I started thinking of ways that I could help them. Child sexual abuse is a difficult topic to discuss, and I feel raising awareness would help start conversations that will lead to protecting children.
E-A: Has it been a lot of work?
C: It was very time consuming researching the law and the Criminal code, for sure.
E-A: Who helped you to write this document?
C: I had help from a family friend who is a sergeant with the RCMP, and a couple of Crown Attorneys who were able to give me a better understanding of the law and the criminal code. Once I had my petition written I had them look it over one last time to ensure the wording etc. was right. Drew Ostash who is a Member’s Assistant for the House of Commons helped me understand the process of creating the petition.
E-A: Do you believe that justice is not yet done without better protection from this sort of crime?
C: I wouldn’t say there is no justice, as I do believe our system does work to some degree. I feel there are a number of loopholes, such as the one I identified in my petition, that if addressed and amended would certainly help protect children far better from dangerous offenders.
E-A: While the outcome is uncertain, what has this process meant to you?
C: It means a lot to know that this is something that people are passionate about and that they are willing to sign their name in support of what I am trying to do.
Zach Miller showed courage some years earlier when he spoke out about this crime against him and the other youth. Miller was on a radio talk show in Sask. last Friday where he promoted Caldwell’s petition.
Caldwell’s parents support her endeavor. Val, a councillor with the RM of Wallace-Woodworth said: “She’s always been one to stand up for others who can’t find their voice. I think what surprised us (and her) the most has been the media attention and the overwhelming positive response on social media.”
The petition will be certified by the Clerk of Petitions after May 19 to allow a 90-day window for people to sign. Then the petition will be presented to the House of Commons by MP Larry Maguire and the final step will be the tabling of a Government response.