A Winnipeg man found guilty of luring a minor over the Plenty of Fish dating website has had his convictions quashed after a judge ruled police had entrapped him.

A Winnipeg man found guilty of luring a minor over the Plenty of Fish dating website has had his convictions quashed after a judge ruled police had entrapped him.

Michael Joseph Lymych was convicted last year after being tried for internet luring and making sexually explicit material available to a minor.

Lymych, 36, was arrested as part of a Winnipeg Police Service investigation, Project Hook, which targeted the online luring of minors.

Following his conviction, Lymych applied for a judicial stay, alleging an abuse of process by police. Lymych argued police had no reason to believe he would commit a crime, and but for the actions of an undercover police officer posing as a 14-year-old girl, he would not have been induced to commit one.

“It is critical that the police have a foundation for reasonable suspicion to offer an opportunity to commit a crime, for without that foundation, there is an increased likelihood that a citizen may commit a crime that he or she would not otherwise commit." — Queen’s Bench Justice Jeffrey Harris

"Faced with ever more sophisticated predators, the police must find tools to find these predators before they can harm children," Queen’s Bench Justice Jeffrey Harris said in a ruling last week. "However, our law draws a line in which tools can be used and will not sanction tools which are an abuse of process.

"It is critical that the police have a foundation for reasonable suspicion to offer an opportunity to commit a crime, for without that foundation, there is an increased likelihood that a citizen may commit a crime that he or she would not otherwise commit," said Harris, the same judge who convicted Lymych last fall.

Court heard at trial Lymych sent pictures of his erect penis to an undercover police officer he made contact with on Plenty of Fish and believed to be a 14-year-old girl named "Katie," telling her: "This is yours now if you want to date exclusively."

Police arrested Lymych days later after he drove to a Tim Hortons restaurant on Marion Street expecting to meet "Katie."

At trial, Lymych claimed he did not believe "Katie" was under 18, as she said, and "brushed it off." Lymych testified a cellphone number "Katie" provided him was associated with an escort service, leading him to believe she was part of a scam. Lymych claimed he played along to see what would happen.

“The police must not engage in random virtue testing. The decision to intrude into an individual’s private life and offer them an opportunity to commit a crime is justified only if the grounds predate the measure.” — Queen’s Bench Justice Jeffrey Harris

In seeking to quash his conviction, Lymych argued the undercover police officer provided him with an opportunity to commit a crime when she had no grounds to believe he was involved in criminal activity.

The officer’s Plenty of Fish profile page identified her as being 21 years old. Lymych contacted her March 10, 2019, and after some small talk about kittens and baking "Katie" told Lymych she had "never been with a guy b4" and was "pretty young."

"What so you’re like a virgin?" Lymych replied. "You should save yourself I don’t want to just use you for sex."

At the officer’s suggestion, the two moved their conversation offline and began texting when "Katie" told Lymych she was 14 years old.

"Well, we cannot have sex like ever but I’m not going to stop talking to you because of that," Lymych said. "And you can’t send me nudes only sexy pics in underwear is fine if you ever get frisky."

It was only later that Lymych sent "Katie" pictures of himself and talked explicitly of sex.

Harris said it was the police officer who first introduced sex into the conversation when she said she had never been with a boy before, at which point Lymych redirected their discussion to baking.

"It is (the police officer) who suggests that they move to the privacy of texting," Harris said. "Her explanation that the profile can be shut down when someone finds out your age leads me to conclude that she wanted to, as she did, reveal her precise age in order to provide Mr. Lymych another opportunity to commit a crime. If that was not her intent, there would have been no reason to leave Plenty of Fish."

Police must have a "reasonable suspicion" an accused is already involved in criminal activity before offering them an opportunity to commit a crime, Harris said.

"The police must not engage in random virtue testing," he said. "The decision to intrude into an individual’s private life and offer them an opportunity to commit a crime is justified only if the grounds predate the measure."

dean.pritchard@freepress.mb.ca

Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard
Courts reporter

Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.