Ex-deputy education minister looks for help before guilty plea
For the first time since he was arrested in July 2013, former deputy education minister and well-known professor Benjamin Levin has broken the silence about his child pornography charges.
Saying he's "deeply ashamed," Levin, who was deputy minister of education and a member of Premier Kathleen Wynne's transition team, has reached out to "friends and colleagues" to write letters of support as he prepares to plead guilty to child porn charges and faces a sentencing hearing, the Toronto Sun has learned.
Levin was charged with seven child-porn related offences under the Criminal Code.
It has been reported that he has made a plea arrangement with the Crown attorney and will attend court next week to formally acknowledge his guilt.
Levin confirms this in a letter sent out on his behalf.
"Dear colleagues, as you probably know, I am currently facing a number of criminal charges laid in July 2013," he wrote in a letter one person received Saturday. "After a great deal of thought and discussion with my family, I will be pleading guilty on March 3 to three of the seven charges, namely one count of possession of child pornography, one count of making written child pornography, and one count of counselling a sexual assault."
Levin then explains: "Reference letters from friends and colleagues can be an important part of the sentencing process following a guilty plea. In such a case, the court benefits from having as full a picture as possible of the offender. You are someone who knows me and my work and may be willing to contribute such a letter. Of course, we recognize and understand that for various reasons some people will not feel able to provide a letter."
For those that do feel comfortable, he suggests they send their letter to his lawyer, Gerald Chan, of Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan.
"For the benefit of the court, letters should indicate that you are aware of the guilty pleas to the three charges. In that regard, you may want to use language such as the following, suggested by my lawyer: I am aware that Mr. Levin is pleading guilty to one count of possession of child pornography, one count of making written child pornography, and one count of counselling a sexual assault.
"I am aware that these charges stem from Internet conversations in which he engages with strangers in explicit discussion of sexual acts with children. I am aware that during these chats he counselled an undercover police officer posing as the mother of a child to sexually assault her child for him. I am aware that 15 images and two videos considered to be child pornography were found in his knowing possession on his computer."
Even though Levin's lead lawyer, Clayton Ruby, told reporters last month there will be no trial and he'll be pleading guilty to some of the charges, Levin is still before the courts and has not been found guilty of any of the allegations to this point.
The letter, though, indicates to his friends and colleagues that he intends to enter a guilty plea.
"I recognize that these are serious charges and highly distressing to many people," said Levin's letter. "Over the last 18 months, I have sent several communications about my situation to people who have contacted me, but chose not to reach out to anyone who did not first contact me. If you do decide to write, letters should speak to my personal qualities or professional accomplishments (both of which can be illustrated by sharing anecdotes) as you know them. Letters can be as long or short as seems appropriate to you. In addition, a letter should say a little about yourself so that the court can understand who you are and how you know me."
He also cautions that "while all such letters will be part of the court's public record, it is unusual (although not impossible) for your name to be made public."
My experience in covering court is that these letters are very public and accessible from the court.
Levin warns those close to him that "you may or may not be contacted by the police or the Crown lawyers as a result of this. You have no obligation to speak to the police or the Crown-it is entirely up to you and you are entitled to seek your own independent legal advice before doing so."
Levin ends his letter by writing: "I'm deeply ashamed of what I have done and deeply grateful to so many friends and colleagues who have, nonetheless, continued to support me in all kinds of ways. Thank you so much for considering this request. Whether or not you write, your friendship has meant a great deal to me."
He didn't take a call from the Sun to comment on the letter and a family member over the phone politely declined to speak about the matter.
Confirming the letter is authentic, and part and parcel of preparing a client for upcoming sentencing, Chan also declined comment.
A spokesman for Wynne said the premier hadn't received the letter wouldn't write anything if she does.
But one of the people who received a correspondence from the disgraced, once-tenured professor at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education was upset at receiving the letter and forwarded it to someone who then in turn brought it to the attention of the Sun.
That someone was Charles McVety, of Canada Christian College, who "in the interest of protecting children" has been very public in his quest to make sure this case gains maximum media coverage.
"This is a very serious matter and I am confident the court would deal with anybody convicted of such a heinous crime harshly," McVety said. "Child pornography is not pornography. There is no acting and no consent. It is the recording of children being raped."
In an attachment, sent out by Levin with his letter to friends, it states he has lost his job at the U of T and "fully accepts that what he did was wrong. He believes that children need to be protected from exploitation of all kinds, including sexual exploitation, of which child pornography is one form. He should have given effect to that understanding; not doing so was wrong."
The attachment "on behalf of Ben Levin" also states that "it is vital to note that despite the disturbing content of the online discussions, no allegations have been made that he committed or intended to commit any wrongdoing with actual children" but "he apologizes unreservedly" and is "deeply ashamed of these actions, and highly aware that they have caused a great deal of hurt to many people, especially those people who matter most to him, including his family, friends and colleagues."
As you probably know, I am currently facing a number of criminal charges laid in July 2013. After a great deal of thought and discussion with my family, I will be pleading guilty on March 3 to three of the seven charges, namely one count of possession of child pornography, one count of making written child pornography, and one count of counselling a sexual assault. Reference letters from friends and colleagues can be an important part of the sentencing process ...
I'm deeply ashamed of what I have done and deeply grateful to so many friends and colleagues who have, nonetheless, continued to support me in all kinds of ways. Thank you so much for considering this request. Whether or not you write, your friendship has meant a great deal to me.