Former school principal guilty in North Okanagan child pornography case | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Former school principal guilty in North Okanagan child pornography case

March 06, 2021 - 8:30 AM

A 78-year-old Armstrong resident and former school principal who pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography, told a Vernon courtroom that he has never inappropriately touched a child.

"I worked with children for 31 years in my teaching career, and the only point I'm making here is that I have never acted inappropriately with an actual child anywhere," Homme Vandermeer told the court.

Vandermeer's statement came after both lawyers in the case had given their submissions for sentencing at the Vernon courthouse Mar. 3.

He was charged with three counts of accessing and possessing child pornography online, after the RCMP seized a computer from his Armstrong home in September 2017. 

He pleaded guilty to one charge of possession of child pornography the day before he was due to go to trial in January 2019.

The court heard how the RCMP's Integrated Child Exploitation Team had clocked Vandermeer's Internet address accessing and downloading child pornography. His computer was later found to have 91 images of children aged between eight and 13 years old posing naked.

"These are not children that were known to Mr. Vandermeer but the impact of that exploitation on those children will follow them for the rest of their lives through the spreading of child pornography," Crown prosecutor Brock Bellrichard told the court.

While disturbing, Bellrichard said the images were categorized at the lowest level of severity on a scale that assesses child pornography. It was noted that the children were not engaged in sexual acts with each other or with adults.

The court heard that Vandermeer had been an elementary school teacher before becoming a vice principal and then principal before retiring in 2003.

It's unclear where Vandermeer taught throughout his career although it appears it was somewhere in British Columbia. Vandermeer said he'd worked as a swimming instructor in Golden throughout his twenties.

When asked where he taught, Vandermeer's lawyer said his client had refused to comment to the media.

The Crown argued for a four-month jail sentence followed by two years probation and a 10-year ban prohibiting Vandermeer from going to a public parks or swimming pools and having no contact with anyone under 16.

While none of the charges related to his time as a teacher, the question of his former career was raised several times in the courtroom.

"It's certainly concerning in terms of his background... of him being a teacher," the Crown prosecutor told the judge.

"Is there any evidence that Mr. Vandermeer's done anything beyond these 91 (images)," Provincial Court Judge Richard Hewson asked the prosecutor.

No, he replied.

"Is there any evidence that Mr. Vandermeer that in his years and years and years in the service as a teacher that he ever did anything remotely inappropriate with a child?" the judge asked.

Again, the Crown replied, "no."

The judge questioned the lawyer's request for a 10-year ban that prohibited Vandermeer from visiting parks and pools.

"Where do you draw the line with these conditions?" the Judge asked. "People should be punished but they shouldn't be punished more than necessary... how much do I need to cut away at Mr. Vandermeer's liberty in order to keep all children safe?"

Bellrichard reiterated the Crown position for imposing such a lengthy ban.

"The sentencing is not to reflect...(that) Mr. Vandermeer behaved in any inappropriate way while he worked as a teacher or a principal in his former years of employment but nevertheless, we're standing here before you with him having to have had access to that 91 images which is of great concern," he said. "The offence he has pled guilty to is the exploitation of children, and protection of vulnerable people in the community is paramount."

Defence lawyer Nick Jacob argued his client should receive eight to 12 months of house arrest.

“Jail would be harder on him than the normal person given his age and the serious health issues,” Jacob said.

Vandermeer had been scheduled for sentencing in March 2020, but it appears his poor health delayed the proceedings.

The 78-year-old recently had a heart bypass operation and had gallbladder issues.

The court heard Vandermeer has been married for 53 years and is still with his wife. The couple had two successful adult children and his grandchildren were also now adults. Outside of teaching, Vandermeer once held a pilot's licence and been a keen golfer. He lamented that his usual golf buddies don't want to play with him since learning of the charges.

Jacob said his client has been a "highly respected person" and acknowledged his guilt.

But one thing missing from the court was any insight from the 78-year-old as to why he had committed the crime.

He’s told the author of a pre-sentence report “it just happened.”

Vandermeer also gave no insight into why he’d done what he did when he stood to address the court.

"I have worked with children since I was 18,” he said. “I have never touched inappropriately a girl or a boy… and I have had no complaints, many times teachers get accused but that didn’t happen to me."

Judge Hewson said he wanted more time to decide on an appropriate sentence.

Vandermeer will now have to wait until Mar. 25 to see whether he’ll spend time behind bars.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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