No jail for former school principal guilty in North Okanagan child pornography case | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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No jail for former school principal guilty in North Okanagan child pornography case

March 26, 2021 - 6:30 AM

A 78-year-old former school principal has avoided jail and will instead spend four months under house arrest after he pleaded guilty to having close to 100 images of child pornography on his computer.

Armstrong resident Homme Vandermeer refused to comment as he walked out of the Vernon courthouse today, March 25, refusing to say whereabouts in the province he taught during his lengthy career as a teacher.

"We are mortified and we are upset," Vandermeer's son said, adding "that's all I can say."

The case dates back to June 2017 when the RCMP first detected that images of child pornography were being downloaded at his Armstrong home. He was later arrested and police found 91 imagines of nude girls aged between eight and 13 years old.

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

Since his guilty plea, the 78-year-old has suffered a "cascade" of illnesses that included a gallbladder infection that led to septic shock, kidney failure, and a heart attack which required open-heart surgery later that year. He is waiting to have his gallbladder removed and has an external tube draining into a bag.

The Crown had argued Vandermeer should spend four months in jail, while his defence said this case involved "exceptional circumstances" and requested a sentence of house arrest citing his poor health, his age, lack of prior criminal record and "unblemished" teaching record.

B.C. Provincial Court Judge Richard Hewson said the case was "close to the line" when it came to accepting a non-custodial sentence.

"Jailing an elderly man in physical decline is not the right way to deter others when he is unlikely to re-offend," Judge Hewson said.

However, the judge did highlight Vandermeer's lack of explanation as to why he searched for, and then downloaded nearly 100 pictures of child pornography.

"He does not yet appreciate how his conduct has contributed to the harm caused to the five children depicted in the images he saved, and the other children caught in the child pornography industry," the judge said.

Vandermeer had told the author of a pre-sentence report "it just happened."

Earlier in March, Vandermeer had addressed the court at length, talking about his career and saying he'd never acted "inappropriately" with a child throughout his 31 years teaching.

While none of the charges relate to his time teaching, Judge Hewson also highlighted the comments Vandermeer made to the court early in the month.

"I noted that at one point, Mr. Vandermeer said, 'I have never acted inappropriately with an actual child anywhere,'" the Judge said.

The judge did not elaborate further on the subject.

It's not clear where Vandermeer taught, but the 78-year-old had said he'd worked as a swimming instructor in his 20s in Golden.

The court heard how Vandermeer had been seen as a "man of good character" in the community prior to the charges. He held a pilot's licence and had been a keen golfer, although since the charges his circle of support had narrowed. Although his wife of 54 years had stood by him, as did his children and adult grandchildren.

Much of the sentence hearing was given to the judge's deliberations on whether the case could be classified as “exceptional circumstances.”

Judge Hewson said the images of child pornography were classified as the least serious on a scale of one to five and that Vandermeer had accepted responsibility, felt remorse for his actions, and knew his behaviour had been terrible.

However, the judge still highlighted that while no one knew the names of the five children in the images or where they lived they still lived somewhere.

“Mr. Vandermeer still lacks the insight to understand that each child in the pornographic images he possessed was an actual child, somewhere,” he said. “It is beyond question that possession of pornographic images of a child harms that child, and contributes to the harm of others.”

The judge said there was a “clear risk” that jail would have a serious effect on Vandermeer’s physical health.

“If his physical health deteriorates, the chances of his rehabilitation will diminish as well,” Judge Hewson said.

Ultimately, Vandermeer was sentenced to four months house arrest and 24 months probation. He will be on the sex offenders registry for 10 years and is not allowed to be in the presence of anyone under 18 years old. He’s also not allowed to use the Internet without his wife or kids present and has to give a DNA sample.

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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