Ben Miljure, CTV Winnipeg, Canada
After being silenced for nearly a decade, a young man is speaking out about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child.
Zach Miller was 10-years-old when a man with a long history of abusing young children abducted him and another boy and sexually assaulted them.
"It's affected me. I'm a completely different person than I would have been if this had never happened to me,” said Miller on Saturday at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection in Winnipeg.
Zach Miller had a publication ban lifted so he could speak out about sexual abuse he suffered as a child.
Peter Whitmore, the man convicted of assaulting Miller, had previously been convicted of sexually assaulting seven other children.
He had his day in court and received a life-sentence; but Miller, now 20, couldn’t speak publicly because of a publication ban.
"It did feel like I was being silenced. It felt like I was losing my right to my own freedom of speech. I was silenced because I couldn't speak out against these people. I felt a victim under the court,” said Miller.
A Saskatchewan court over-turned the publication ban this past Christmas Eve.
Despite receiving a life-sentence in 2007, Whitmore became eligible for parole in 2013. He has declined to apply twice so far.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection helped the Millers in court and with their healing journey.
"We used this opportunity with them to be able to tell an important story so we could start raising awareness about what we see as a very, very significant risk to children,” said Lianna McDonald, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
Miller plans to continue sharing his story publicly and wants to work with other child sexual assault survivors.
"To tell the other people out there, the other survivors that their voice is powerful and they can use it to stand up. They're not alone out there,” he said.
The Miller family also plans to keep petitioning the federal government for tougher sentencing and release rules for people convicted of child sexual assault.
The previous government under Stephen Harper did tighten up a number of laws on child sex abuse, for instance, making concurrent sentencing illegal in child sex abuse cases. For that I am very grateful. I hate concurrent sentences!
The abduction and abuse
On July 23, 2006, Whitmore arrived at the Miller farm, where goats and ducks wander past the 1920s house filled with jars of homemade jam and pickles and the ever present smell of home cooking. He was new to town, he said, and he introduced the 14-year-old in his company as his nephew.
“He was very amicable, nice guy, smooth talker,” Pam recalls. “His kid would be starting school next month and wanted to meet some kids.”
A few days later, Lyle fixed Whitmore’s blown tire — “We’re just a helpful family,” Pam says — and Pam invited them to stay for supper. A play date was set for the boys the next day.
Sunday, July 30, began like any other with chores and tending to the animals.
Later that morning, the new boy arrived. What none of the Millers knew was that the boy had been abducted by Whitmore a week earlier in Winnipeg. And shortly after he arrived, he and Zach, a cherubic, red-haired boy, set out on their bikes to explore a nearby farm.
“We got to the farmyard,” Zach recalls. “We decide to go to the garage and next thing I know, something grabbed me from behind, my mouth gets duct-taped, get something put over my head and I get thrown into a van.”
His mind raced with panic. “How could this have happened to me?” Zach remembers thinking. “And I thought about what my parents are gonna think what happened and how I was gonna get out of there. What’s gonna happen to me?
“I’m not gonna see anybody anymore. I’m not gonna see my mom and my dad. My brother or sisters, not gonna see them anymore.”
Whitmore drove for about 20 minutes to a deserted farmhouse near Kipling, Sask., where the van stopped in a lot hidden from the road.
“I get a dog leash put on me, and I get dragged into an old abandoned farmhouse that has all the doors nailed shut.”
Zachary Miller is seen in a 2006 photo.
Zachary Miller is seen in a 2006 photo.
When Pam returned home and found the boys were still not back, she traced their likely path to the neighbouring farmhouse. There, she found Zach’s neatly parked bike. It didn’t feel right. Something was wrong.
“Zachary is not a very neat child, and he normally just throws his stuff on the ground in the excitement of whatever he’s doing. And that was very out of character for him.”
She called Lyle and then she called the police.
Whitmore had covered the deserted farmhouse windows, locked the doors and hidden the van in the shed.
Zach was chained to a bed and for two days he was forced to watch child pornography and repeatedly raped.
“What I had been thinking was when will he stop. Why is he doing this to me? And I just tried to shut him out, close my eyes,” he says. “I tried to fight him off but he would just beat me until basically senseless.”
It was all Zach’s fault, Whitmore told him. And if he fought, he would be cut to pieces and Whitmore would go after Zach’s family next. His parents didn’t want him anyway.
“(Whitmore) held a gun to me. He cut me, beat me, choked me. Many points, I thought it was the end.”
But at night, while Whitmore slept, Zach found solace befriending mice.
“Mice would come up out of the vents at night and I would share what little food I had with them because being raised on the farm, animals always come first. And they kind of give you a little bit of courage and strength to keep going, to help out these little creatures so that they could keep going.”
With Zach hidden somewhere in the vast Saskatchewan prairie, police, friends and family scoured the checkerboard fields and back roads.
By late Sunday, an Amber Alert had been issued.
A police officer showed up at the house with a photograph. He asked if this was the man who took Zach.
Was he known to police, they asked.
“I asked her if he kills kids,” Pam says.
“He hasn’t yet.”
The story soon became national news. The details were more chilling than they could have imagined.Whitmore’s convictions for sexual offences began in 1993 and unfolded in a tragic parade of children he had groomed and abused.
“When I saw it on Canada AM that morning . . . we were horrified, couldn’t believe it was happening,” Pam says. “It was just so beyond our scope of ever having to deal with something like that.”
She and Lyle began to think the unthinkable.
“It kind of sunk in that he might be gone,” says Pam. “We may never see him again. This man is obviously doing horrible things to our child. And if he’s going to kill him, do it fast. Don’t make him suffer.”
How Whitmore had been allowed free to wander Saskatchewan farm country has never been satisfactorily answered for the Millers.
For more than a decade, experts had been identifying Whitmore as likely to strike again.
In 1995, during Whitmore’s second sentence, a psychiatric assessment described him as a “high risk for general recidivism” and “a high risk for violent recidivism.” It also notes that Whitmore acknowledged engaging in sexual acts with “10 or 11” more boys under the age of 12 than the number he had been charged with.
Two years later, another report, conducted after authorities found inappropriate pictures in his cell, again found a “high risk for maintaining/entering his crime cycle and for continuing to reinforce his inappropriate sexual responding to children.”
After his second early release in 2000, he told one newspaper, “I know I’m not (going to reoffend) because if I do, I’m going to prison for the rest of my life. I don’t want to harm anyone else. I’ve made that promise to myself.”
But a psychiatric report concluded: “There are many good reasons, clinical and actuarial, to consider Mr. Whitmore to be at considerable risk for future sexual offending.”
Canadian Centre for Child Protection
A month later, Toronto police arrested him after finding him with a 13-year-old boy in a Bay St. hotel.
Another psychological assessment concluded the probability of his recidivism was “100 per cent over 7 and 10 years respectively.” Still, Whitmore was released after serving eight months of a yearlong sentence.
In 2005, Whitmore was again in prison for breaching probation after he was found with a 5-year-old boy.
A psychological assessment conducted near the end of his sentence said his sexual deviance “has not been fully addressed and remains a significant risk factor.”
He was released two days later.
For the next year, he was required to regularly report to police for monitoring. In June 2006, Whitmore was interviewed by an RCMP officer in Alberta, where he was living. He told the officer that he is “attracted to young males, 12-14 years old.”
A month later, Whitmore arrived at the Millers.
“The access he’s had to children over the years is unimaginable given the history he has,” says Christy Dzikowicz, a director with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection in Winnipeg, which has worked with the Miller family since 2008 to help them recover.
“There are loopholes in supervision, there have been issues with monitoring him. . . If we can’t protect children from a man like Whitmore with all that we know about him and with his history and the work of police to arrest him, what are we doing with the rest of the offenders and how is our system addressing those?”
On the second day, the sound of sirens cut the silence inside the derelict farmhouse.
A Kentucky Fried Chicken container that Whitmore had carelessly tossed the night before had caught the attention of a local. When he saw fresh tire tracks, he called police.
As police formed a perimeter, Whitmore moved the boys from the farmhouse to a nearby barn.
Zach overheard Whitmore tell the other boy, “We gotta get rid of him somehow.”
Terrified, Zach plotted a daring escape.
Finding an old hacksaw blade, he cut the duct tape binding his wrists.
As soon as Whitmore turned away, Zach fled across the fields, tripping in gopher holes. And fell into the arms of a police officer.
Zach had survived and would be reunited with his parents.
“It started dawning on me that I was safe, and then this dread started coming over me,” Zach recalls of the moment he met his parents in a Regina police station. “I started feeling like it was my fault that I put my parents through this. . . All I did was basically start crying, trying to say sorry.”
|Whitmore's house of horrors, Kipling, Sask.|
Toronto criminal lawyer Daniel Brodsky, who represented Whitmore between 2000 and 2006, says the case reveals a system failure and a “catastrophe.”
Measures meant to monitor Whitmore worked, he says, until a communication breakdown between police forces let him slip through the cracks.
Whitmore had been on a peace bond in the months leading to Zach’s abduction and was required to regularly report to local police. Those conditions expired on June 12, 2006 — a few weeks before Whitmore targeted Zach.
Police in Chilliwack, B.C., had prepared another peace bond, court records show, but before it was sworn, Whitmore moved to Morinville, Alta.
The peace bond was never renewed. The monitoring of one of Canada’s worst child abusers had stopped.
“Police sometimes don’t talk to other police forces,” says Brodsky. “We would have done much better in Peter’s case if we were dealing with it appropriately. We weren’t.”
Whitmore fled to Newfoundland where he paid a young boy $40 to touch his genitals, according to court records.
Soon after, he landed in Winnipeg where he abducted the boy he would call his nephew and use to lure Zach.
Brodsky says he was so troubled by Whitmore’s case, he asked former justice minister Rob Nicholson to conduct a public inquiry.
“The one thing I can say, because we didn’t take the opportunity to learn, is there will be another failure and there will be other victims.”
Police and reporters eventually disappeared from the farm but for the Millers, it was far from the end of the Whitmore story.
“Zach had to take an AIDS cocktail for a month,” his father says. “It was horrendously hard for him. It made his guts turn inside out … For me, it was a hopeless, hopeless feeling that, ‘Oh my God, how did I let this happen to him?’ ”
Zach and his youngest sisters were teased so relentlessly when school resumed that Lyle and Pam eventually pulled them out. Pam home-schooled them after that.
“They’d make gay jokes about me,” Zach recalls. “They’d make fun about certain things I don’t want to talk about. You can only take so much.”
In the meantime, the family, consumedby the aftermath, couldn’t work the farm, says Lyle. Debt piled up.
“It damn near bankrupted us,” he says. “We had to sell 160 acres after that to get our debt in line. In farming, you can’t miss a season. And I couldn’t work.”
The tragedy lingers.
Zach keeps to only a handful of close friends. He sleeps fitfully. He doesn’t like to be hugged or even touched.
“A hug can sometimes feel like he’s closing in on you,” says Zach, who works as a heavy equipment operator.
Crown prosecutor Anthony Gerein, speaking at Whitmore’s sentencing hearing in 2007, concluded his submissions with these words: “It ends here, it ends now, with life imprisonment.”
The judge added this: “I know of no sentence that is available that would not allow a prisoner at some time to apply for parole.”
Any bid Whitmore makes for freedom would be easedby the fact that, despite his long list of crimes against children, he was never designated a dangerous offender, which would have made it far more difficult for him to be granted parole.
The prosecutor in the Miller case decided against pursuing the designation because Whitmore pleaded guilty to most of the charges. And the Millers didn’t want Zach to testify in court.
“I firmly believe he’s going to try real hard (to be released),” says Lyle. “And he’s succeeded every time. . . He was given a life sentence. That sounded really good to me. Twenty-five years. Pfft. Doesn’t mean a damn thing.”
Lyle has met with a series of federal justice ministers — Vic Toews, Rob Nicholson and, most recently, Peter MacKay — pushing them to ensure child abusers somehow remain institutionalized.
All express concern and sympathy, Lyle says, but ultimately promise little because of protections afforded every Canadian under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Canadians . . . do you want him out there?” Lyle asks. “Anybody want him out there? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves. . . He is nothing but a child rapist. Yesterday, today, and will be tomorrow.”
Requests for an interview with current Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould were declined.
A written statement from the ministry reads: “The sexual abuse of children is one of the most horrific crimes in our society. . . The mandate of the Minister of Justice includes a review of the changes in our criminal justice system to ensure that we are increasing the safety of our communities, addressing gaps and ensuring that current provisions are aligned with the objectives of the system.”
Zach is haunted by Whitmore.
“As long as he’s there, as long as he still exists somehow, I’ll always be looking over my shoulder.”
And haunted by his nightmares.
“He’ll just be there, like I can hear him laughing at me. I can watch exactly what happened to me happen to me over and over again and I can’t do anything about it. Just watch it happen.”