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"Ugliest demonstration of child pornography” nets three years

Athabasca man sentenced after 2020 arrest by Internet Child Exploitation Unit
Michael Courtepatte, 45, was sentenced to three years in federal prison Nov. 22 after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography following his arrest Sept. 2, 2020.

ATHABASCA — The Athabasca man guilty of hoarding over 10,000 photos and videos of child pornography will go to jail for three years with the judge calling it one of the “saddest and ugliest demonstration(s) of child pornography” he’s ever seen. 

In Athabasca Provincial Court Nov. 22, Judge Clifton Purvis took almost an hour to consider the defence and Crown arguments for sentence before sending 45-year-old Michael Courtepatte to jail for three years — Courtepatte had pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of possession of child pornography June 28, after he was originally charged with distribution of child pornography. 

“If it’s not the saddest and ugliest demonstration of child pornography, it is certainly close to," said the judge before handing down the sentence. 

He noted the early guilty plea and accepted it as an indication of remorse and a desire to be held accountable, but denounced the suggestion that depression or mental health issues might reduce "morale culpability." In addition to the jail time, Courtepatte must submit to a DNA test, will be on the national sex offender registry for 20 years, cannot attend a school or have employment, either paid or unpaid, involving access to, or supervision of anyone under the age of 16. 

Meanwhile, any contact or communication with anyone under 16 years old must have signed consent from the parent or guardian who must also be present the entire time, and he may not use public Internet, cannot password-protect his devices, cannot install any encryption software on any device he owns and all Internet he accesses must be in his name or his employers. 

Judge Purvis added the aggravating factors were the size of the collection, the age of the victims, the "extreme violence and graphic nature" of the collection, the length of time spent collecting, and the discovery of messages on devices owned by Courtepatte indicating a desire to trade and share the pornography. 

And while Courtepatte did take a moment to tell the court he was remorseful and wanted help, Judge Purvis was not satisfied he understood the harm caused by child pornography — that even though he himself did not create any, he helped create the market for it, which led to others sexually abusing and exploiting children. Courtepatte was one of 26 men across Alberta arrested between June 20 and Sept. 17, 2020, by the Internet Child Exploitation Unit (ICE), a division under the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT).  

Sentencing arguments 

Crown prosecutor Danielle Fostey went over the finer points of the case, reiterating that when Courtepatte was arrested he immediately confessed to Athabasca RCMP that he was in possession of the pornography and even stated he had been collecting it since 2005, 10 years earlier than the investigation initially showed. 

"Each and every image and video involved the sexual abuse of a child," she said. 

She noted forensics on 12 of 16 devices taken into custody during the raid on Courtepatte’s residence recovered 8,284 images and 3,346 videos of various lengths and the material was “organized in a way it wouldn’t be lost" saying it was backed up across multiple devices. 

“Mr. Courtepatte put a lot of effort into his collection,” said Fostey.  

She added, "the level of depravity and violence depicted" showing children ranging from infant to approximately 12 years old being sexually abused by other children and adults was considered quite disturbing by prosecutors.  

However, Fostey did say there was no evidence Courtepatte sought to act on his desires outside of watching the videos and viewing the photos, but he did actively seek and offer to trade photos and videos.  

Defence lawyer Andrew Zebak noted Courtepatte is in a long-term, heterosexual relationship, had previously been married to a woman, and has one son, pointing out the possession of same-sex child pornography was counterintuitive to how Courtepatte lived. He has family in the Athabasca area and near Drayton Valley and character witnesses described him as “loving, caring … a good role model and father,” but he also has deep depression and “extreme hoarding behaviour.” 

Courtepatte has a Grade 11 education and no trades tickets, was employed, but was laid off due to the pandemic as is currently receiving Employment Insurance benefits and applying for AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped), Zebak said. 

He added Courtepatte never created any of the content, and there was such an abundance there was no way Courtepatte would have actually had time to view it all. He further stated Courtepatte was aware he needed to seek therapy and be monitored by the courts as to the success of the therapy and agreed to all conditions imposed surrounding accessing devices and the Internet. 

Zebak asked for the sentence be carried out with house arrest allowing Courtepatte to live with his ailing mother, excluding appointments for court, medical treatment and counselling, and to allow four to five hours per week for personal shopping, but Fostey noted — specifically in cases involving child pornography — house arrest is not a deterrence and pushed for incarceration in an institution. 

Countering the statement though, Zebak noted one of the reasons for punishment is deterrence and said Courtepatte is "afraid to go out in public" and considering his "notoriety" in the community, as well as being known by local RCMP, it should be enough of a deterrent. 

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