More than a dozen parents stood outside Coast Mountain School District (CMSD) 82’s Nechako Elementary school in Kitimat Wednesday (Sept. 7) calling for the removal of a man previously investigated for allegedly inappropriately touching children at another school in the vicinity in 2019.
Accusations against the man were first made in 2019 by Kitimat resident Richard Pollard’s family, whose grandchildren were attending Haisla Community School (run by the Haisla First Nation), where the man was working as a teaching assistant.
Pollard, who organized Wednesday’s protest, told Black Press Media that they filed a complaint with the RCMP and the investigation was forwarded to B.C. Prosecution Service for consideration of charges.
Black Press Media is not naming the man as charges have not been laid. The BC Prosecution Service told Black Press the RCMP submitted a report to the Crown Counsel in early 2019.
“Charges were not approved as the assessing Crown could not conclude that the charge assessment standard was met,” said BC Prosecution Service spokesperson Gordon Comer in an email statement.
The man, meanwhile, left the Haisla school that same year following the complaint, according to Pollard.
While the protest was intended to put pressure on Coast Mountain School District 82 to remove the man from Nechako Elementary (where he works in a non-teaching position) and review hiring processes, Black Press Media has since learned of more alleged historical assaults.
A 29-year-old woman, whose name is being withheld by Black Press at this time, was dropping off supplies for her children at the school when she saw the protest. After learning what it was for, she decided to go to the RCMP detachment and file a complaint about her own alleged assault by the same man.
The woman said, around 25 years ago, she was attending Nechako Elementary for Kindergarten and Grade 1 when the incident took place.
“I was in a group of maybe four to five girls, and they all said the same thing happened where he would pull you in and rub his body against you and he would touch your butt and he was just very inappropriately groping us as children,” she told the Black Press.
She never told her parents or school teachers about the incident nor reported it to authorities at the time.
“I was concerned no one would take me seriously.”
Kitimat RCMP declined to provide details about the woman’s complaint and said that while at times they cannot comment on every report made to the police, all reports made to the police are thoroughly investigated
The timeline of when the man worked in different schools in the area remains murky, but it appears he worked at Nechako Elementary at least 20 years ago based on the woman’s statement. It is not known when he started at the Haisla Community School until he left there in 2019.
CMSD 82’s hiring process under scrutiny
Earlier this year, Pollard said his family was shocked to learn the same man was hired by CMSD 82.
Pollard said he reached out to the Haisla Nation office to check if they provided a recommendation letter for the man and claims he was told by an administrative staff there was none provided. (Black Press was unable to verify this claim, as the Haisla Nation’s director for education, Angie Maitland, declined a request for an interview).
Pollard is also questioning the school district’s hiring practices that led to the person being hired in a non-teaching role, specifically around reference checks.
Pollard said he spoke about this issue with multiple CMSD 82 officials, including former superintendent Janet Meyer who retired this summer, and school board trustees. Pollard also sent emails to Skeena Liberal MLA Ellis Ross and provincial education minister Jennifer Whiteside’s office.
In his letter to Whiteside, obtained by Black Press Media, Pollard stated:
“In June of 2019 a number of preteen girls made some very serious allegations against a teacher’s assistant, the police were called and an investigation followed in which no charges were brought forward because the police said when the prosecutor saw the evidence he did not think they could get a conviction because of how the statements were taken. This person was not cleared, but because of how the statements were taken no charges were laid.”
The man is presumed innocent. He will not be prosecuted.
He also explained in detail to the minister all the events that transpired in his several meetings and calls with CMSD 82 management resulting in no action.
In an email sent by Whiteside’s office to Pollard, also obtained by Black Press, it redirected Pollard back to the School District citing the issue is best addressed at a “local level.”
The education minister’s office told Black Press Media that it cannot comment on individual district employees.
“Local boards of education, as the employers, are responsible for the delivery of education and services to students. This includes all decisions pertaining to the hiring and management of their staff,” the ministry said in an email.
CMSD 82’s new superintendent Aaron Callaghan who took charge this August, met with the protesters outside the school yesterday, he said.
“I met with those individuals and heard their concerns, which we will continue to look into,” he said.
Callaghan also said the School District hiring processes include mandatory criminal record checks as well as reference checks.
“The School District would never hire an individual if there were concerns about that person working with children, as our students and their safety is our first priority,” he said in an email statement.
Callaghan did not say if the employee will continue at the school in the meantime or if an investigation will be launched and said he will not be providing any further information at this time.
The CMSD 82 superintendent has also encouraged individuals with any additional information about this issue to contact him directly or the Kitimat RCMP Detachment.
Meanwhile, Pollard said the protest outside the school building will continue for the rest of the week.