© Guardian file photo
SUMMERSIDE — It’s a type of case Island courts are seeing too often, says the judge who sentenced a 29-year-old Tignish man to time behind bars for luring two teenage girls through social media.
“Luring charges are something, unfortunately, we are seeing more and more of,” said Judge Jeff Lantz said Wednesday in sentencing Gregory Ritchie Gallant. “I expect with technology we will see more and more.”
Gallant was sentenced to nine months in jail on two charges of luring two teenage girls via Facebook, on a single count of possessing a nude picture of one of the girls, which due to her age, is considered child pornography, and a single count of invitation to sexual touching.
The girls are from Prince County and known to Gallant.
Gallant, who also uses the last names Ellsworth and Clyde, also pleaded guilty to an impaired driving charge, which was not related, and was sentenced to serve an additional 30 days behind bars.
“This is the danger with society these days,” said Lantz, referring to social media and how easily individuals like Gallant can prey on young girls. “(They) can enter into private residences through the Internet and seek to groom young people.”
The investigation started after RCMP received a complaint from a teenaged girl that Gallant had touched her breast.
The assault happened on Aug. 28, 2012. The girl, 14, was at a friend’s home. Gallant ended up at the home and attempted to put his hand down her shirt.
In a follow-up interview with the girl, she told police that, in the spring, Gallant invited her to his home and showed her a picture of a young naked girl who she recognized and was also 14.
Police ended up interviewing the girl in the picture that day and she indicated she had sent the picture of herself through Facebook at Gallant’s request.
A search warrant was executed on Gallant’s home and his computer was seized and sent to be analyzed. Hundreds of images were found, of which four were considered child pornography. Three were described as stock photos while the other was the one the girl had sent Gallant.
Chat logs were also uncovered, detailing conversations between Gallant and both girls.
The first girl, who Gallant had fondled, told police they had been communicating through Facebook for about a year. Gallant made comments about how hot and sexy she was and, on numerous occasions, asked to see her breasts. He would also request to see her breasts in exchange for cigarettes.
With the second girl, who had sent Gallant the nude photo, she added him as a Facebook friend in May 2012 and they communicated for about a month. She told police Gallant sexually harassed her, constantly bugging her for naked pictures and asked her to meet him for sex, which she declined.
She ended up blocking him on Facebook but later allowed him back on her friends’ list, at which time Gallant threatened her to send him naked pictures or he would tell her family what she was doing on Facebook. The girl complied, sending him the one photo that was later found by police.
Crown attorney John Diamond and defence attorney Trish Cheverie presented a joint recommendation for sentencing, each detailing similar cases that have been prosecuted in recent years on the Island.
Cheverie said Gallant, in their first meeting, did admit to the crimes and wanted it dealt with in court as soon as possible but noted the complexities of the ongoing investigation and technical analysis by RCMP prompted the Crown to delay the case.
“He did indicate in the pre-sentence report that he was remorseful,” said Cheverie. “He didn’t know why he did it and why he was engaged in that activity.”
She noted Gallant does have mental health issues, suffers from anxiety and addictions issues and has spent years in counselling.
“Clearly, there are some underlying issues here,” said Cheverie. “He takes full responsibility for his behaviour. I would suggest my client, at 29 years of age, has reasonable prospect of rehabilitation.”
And, as a result of having to register for life under the Sex Offender Information Registry Act, “he is going to be monitored for forever, really.”
Once his sentence is served, Gallant will be on probation for three years, during which time he must stay away from the victims, not have contact with anyone under the age of 16 via computer or other electronic devices, and must undergo assessment, counselling and treatment for any mental health, addictions and sexual deviancy issues.
He was also ordered to forfeit the computer and cellphone that were seized by police during the investigation.
Gallant, under the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, must register for life and also provide a DNA sample to police.