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Court eases internet restrictions for Sask. man who matched with a 15-year-old girl on Tinder

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A Saskatchewan man who had a sexual encounter with a 15-year-old girl he met on Tinder successfully appealed to shorten release conditions barring him from online dating.

In January 2023, Trevor Howitt was convicted of sexual interference and sentenced to a 39-month prison term following a trial at the Saskatoon Court of King’s Bench. The judge also imposed conditions for three years after his release, including restrictions against working with or attending certain locations where there might be anyone under the age of 16, and using the internet, except for finding a job or in the course of employment.

According to Justice Jeffery Kalmakoff’s written appeal court decision released this month, Howitt argued the restrictions should be set aside because they went “beyond what was reasonable to minimize the risk.”

The appeal court agreed the restrictions were overly broad, but opted instead to shorten the length of conditions by a year and modify them to address his risk factors.

Howitt’s conviction stems from a series of encounters in August 2017, after he matched with the victim on Tinder. The girl wrote in her profile that she was 18-years-old.

Howitt, who was 44-years-old at the time of the offence, acknowledged at trial the girl told him she was still in school, had no licence or vehicle, and was staying with her grandparents because her parents were away — all red flags that should have alerted him that he needed to confirm her age, the trial judge said.

Because she was actually 15-years-old, she could not legally consent to sexual activity.

The circumstances and nature of the offence are enough to conclude that Howitt poses a risk to children in certain contexts, Kalmakoff writes.

“Mr. Howitt committed an offence that involved intrusive sexual contact against a 15-year-old child whom he had just met through a dating app. Although Mr. Howitt professed to having believed that the complainant was of age to consent to sexual activity, he took no positive steps to verify that belief, even though, as the trial judge found, there were many signs that should have prompted him to make inquiries.”

Howitt told court he was addicted to pornography and sex, which he believed stemmed from his own past sexual victimization, “and that those factors played a role in the offence.”

According to Kalmakoff, Howitt demonstrated a willingness to address his risk factors, but admitted that he “still had work to do.”

The three appeal court judges who heard the case did not accept Howitt’s argument that the release conditions should be scrapped, but instead “calibrated to restrict his opportunities to have contact with children in similar circumstances.”

Kalmakoff writes that a blanket restriction on use of the internet is unreasonable, given its utter ubiquity in every day tasks like finding directions and accessing services, but says this case makes it clear that Tinder does not have a “foolproof method of preventing children from using it.”

Instead, the appeal court opted to ban Howitt from using the internet to communicate with anyone over social media or chat forums, access any dating app or website, or accessing pornography. The court kept the restriction on working or volunteering in a position of authority with anyone under 16, and imposed a new restriction barring Howitt from knowingly going within 200 metres of his victim’s work place or home.

He is also prohibited from communicating with anyone under 16-years-old, except in the course of his employment or in the presence of their legal guardian.

The conditions are set for a period of two years after Howitt’s release from custody.

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