A former chair of the Vancouver School Board (VSB) says she is shocked and angry to learn of allegations against one of her former colleagues who was caught up in a Vancouver police sex sting.
The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) announced Wednesday that it had arrested 47 men and charged seven of them after an investigation targeting individuals who sought to purchase sex from minors.
Among those facing charges is former Vision Vancouver VSB trustee Ken Clement, who resigned from his position last summer, citing personal reasons.
“I had no idea. When he resigned, I reached out to him because Ken and I worked together for six years on the board, and we had remained friends since then and we saw each other, we kept in touch … he was someone I cared about,” said former Vision Vancouver trustee Patti Bacchus.
“It’s devastating and it’s heartbreaking to have someone that you care about be charged with something so incredibly awful,” Bacchus continued.
“We were school trustees together, and the most important thing in that role is protecting children and youth from any kind of harm and exploitation and looking after their well-being, and so it just hit really hard to hear that he has been involved in something like this.”
Bacchus said Clement had been considering a run for council last summer but later said he was struggling with mental health issues that had persisted since his time in residential schools and was withdrawing to seek a healing program in his home community.
“There is no justification to seek sexual services from a minor. There’s nothing. I don’t care what has happened to a person. But I also know that trauma and abuse can lead to cycles that are damaging for everyone,” she said.
“Knowing what I know of my friend Ken and what he has gone through in his life, it breaks my heart. It’s in no way OK, and I’m not excusing him and I’m incredibly angry at him for this, but … this whole thing is sad and tragic to me.”
Reactions have also begun to emerge regarding a second man charged in the sting, Nik Dais, a former math teacher and coach at Little Flower Academy, a private, all-girls Catholic school in Vancouver.
The school confirmed that Dais is retired and has not taught classes this year.
Former student Renee Jung said she was shocked to hear the allegations, and also questioned the school’s response.
“I think it would have been more appropriate, much more responsible for the school to say something more to the effect of we didn’t know about this but we will be looking into if there was any inappropriate behaviour and we will be contacting students to see if it, in fact, happened,” she said.
Several other former students took to social media to react to the charges.
“Honestly at a loss for words here. I went to LFA – he was both me and my sister’s my calc teacher and volleyball coach,” wrote one student in a now deleted tweet.
“I’m in disbelief and completely shocked. Dais was one of my (and probably others’) favourite teachers – super nice guy who never gave me weird vibes… ever”
“Me too. Had him for homeroom, math for 3 years, and calc. Everything about this is tragic and horrifying,” replied another student.
In a letter to alumni, LFA said it first learned of the allegations from the media, and that while it has not yet heard from the VPD, it will cooperate with any investigation.
“We are all feeling a multitude of emotions that may include shock, anger, and sadness,” said the letter.
The school said it is bringing in external groups to provide support for students.
WATCH: A total of 47 men were arrested as part of a nine-day police operation
“We want to encourage any student or alumna who may have pertinent information to call the Vancouver police.”
The Ministry of Education released a statement on Thursday saying it will provide any assistance it can to police and prosecutors in response to the charges facing the two men.
“Nothing is more heinous than the sexual exploitation and abuse of a child. Our No. 1 priority is always student safety,” said the ministry.
It said it does not track individual teachers, who are directly employed either by school districts or private schools, but added that the commissioner of teacher regulation is aware of the VPD investigation and gathering information.
“The ministry does not have the authority to cancel or suspend a teacher’s certificate. That authority rests with the commissioner for teacher regulation,” said the statement.
WATCH: Sting operation busts dozens of men preying on teens
“The commissioner has the ability to initiate an investigation if he chooses and has the ability to immediately suspend a teacher’s certificate pending investigation.”
The Vancouver police say the investigation against the 40 other men caught up in the sting, including a firefighter, remains active, and further charges are possible.
VPD Const. Jason Doucette said the possibility of future stings also remains likely.
“You could consider this almost as a pilot project,” he said. “There is no indication that we’re going to be stopping any time soon.”
The sting targeted men by creating online personal ads advertising paid sexual services. It initiated chat messages between the suspects and decoy “girls,” who identified themselves as underage.
The operation lasted two months in 2018, with arrests between June and November.
The men have been charged with considering the purchase of sexual services of a person under 18 years old.
The seven men currently facing charges are:
- Mario Celo Amistad: Next appearance on Jan. 30 for arraignment hearing
- Jim Malmros: Next appearance on Jan. 30 to fix a date
- Jun Jie He: Next appearance on Jan. 30 for arraignment hearing
- Nikolaos Dais: Next appearance on Jan. 30 for arraignment hearing
- Donald Schroeder: Next appearance on Jan. 31 to consult counsel
- Kenneth Clement: Next appearance on Oct. 29 for trial
- Mehran Arefi: Next appearance on Jan. 28 to fix a date
–With files from Jill Bennett