Daryl Argent posted two ads on Craigslist. The ads indicated that Argent was looking for a woman between the ages of 18 and 30 interested in smoking marijuana and more. Lest there be any doubt about what Argent meant by ‘more’ he thoughtfully included a picture of his genitals and to seal the deal a pic of him holding a bud of marijuana.
To the layperson such an ad may have simply taken at face value: a guy looking for a girl to get high and have sex. To Det Brien Smith of the Child Pornography Unit at the Hamilton Police Service the ad held some potentially hidden meaning. In his training Det Smith had learned that people who are seeking sexual activity with children will often mention the age 18 in their ads. This is because Craigslist does not allow personal erotic ads to specify an age less than 18. Det Smith honed in on Argent’s ad because of his mention of the age 18.
Det Smith posing as a 14year old girl named Carlee responded to Argent’s ad. The response read:
Hey..cool pix! im not sure which is bigger…the bud in your hand or your bud! lol!…smoked for first time at my gr8 grad a few weeks ago..yeah! lemme know when you r smokin again some time…luv to try again [para 4]
The two exchanged messages and Carlee revealed that she was 14yrs old, a virgin, in the eighth grade and inexperienced with drugs and sex. Argent responded with talk of oral sex and condoms for vaginal sex.
Argent was arrested and charged with luring a child to engage in sexual activity. Argent was convicted. He appealed. One of the grounds of appeal was that the trial judge erred in dismissing Argent’s request for a stay of proceedings on the basis of entrapment. The Court of Appeal found no error: 2016 ONCA 129.
Argent argued that the police lacked the reasonable grounds to suspect that criminal activity was taking place. He argued that the fact that the ad specified the age of 18 did not on its own provide the requisite level of suspicion. Moreover, Argent argued that it was ‘Carlee’ and not him who sexualized the content of their communication since she made the double entendre reference to Argent’s bud.
The Court of Appeal rejected these arguments and held that:
[t]he ad included a photo of the appellant’s penis and requested a smoking partner “and more”. The police’s consideration of the use of the age 18 as a flag for potential child abusers was reasonable. This was the lowest age that could be posted.
We do not agree that the officer manufactured the criminal activity by sexualizing the first communication. The photos had already done that. The communications from the officer made it clear from the outset that Carlee was 14, had just graduated from grade 8, was inexperienced sexually, and was under the watch of her mother. The questions posed by the officer were open-ended. It was the appellant who pursued the discussion of sexual activity. These facts support the officer’s suspicion that criminal activity was underway [paras 12-13]
It is hard to imagine that the Court could have found anything less than sexualized content in Argent’s ad given that he had posted a picture of his genitals along with his request for female pot smoking company. However, an interesting feature in this case is the Court’s acceptance of the fact that the specified age of 18years could in fact mean an age less than 18. Given that the website does not allow ads with the age of less than 18, the court had no difficulty accepting that not everything on the Internet should be taken at face value. Argent wasn’t the victim of entrapment he simply got caught.