WARNING: This article contains disturbing content.
A former top doctor of B.C.’s Interior Heath region and Alberta Health Services’ North zone was found guilty Tuesday of sexually molesting a child whose family he’d befriended years earlier in Grande Prairie, Alta.
Alberta Court of King’s Bench Justice Shaina Leonard convicted Dr. Albert Stefanus de Villiers on charges of sexual assault and sexual interference in the northern Alberta city. De Villiers was the B.C. health authority’s top doctor until June 2021.
At the time that the crimes were committed, he was a medical officer of health for AHS.
Going over the evidence relating to events that took place near Grande Prairie between June 15, 2018, and July 31, 2020, Leonard said that the child and his parents were credible in their respective accounts of what transpired.
This was particularly the case with the child, now 11, who was once so close with de Villiers that he was referred to as “uncle.”
“I find the complainant’s evidence to be both credible and reliable,” Leonard said.
She accepted the boy’s recollection of watching pornographic material with de Villiers during the four to seven sleepovers at the doctor’s home, that he saw ejaculate on de Villiers when they had shared a bed together at one of those sleepovers, that he’d touched de Villiers genitals and that he himself had been touched.
His testimony, she said, “was conscientious and careful” and she derived that conclusion from “his evidence as a whole.”
The boy “consistently described the key details of the sexual events” despite not always having the vocabulary to explain them, particularly parts of the female and male anatomy.
Throughout this part of sentencing, which was webcast, de Villiers could be seen shaking his head back and forth, seemingly as a denial of what was said.
De Villiers, however, was less of a credible witness throughout the three-day trial, Leonard had said.
“The accused defence consists of bare denial,” she said. “He denies having shown the complainant pornographic videos, touching the complainant sexually and inviting the complainant to touch him sexually. I recognize that a truly innocent person may be unable to do anything other than offer a bare denial that the allegation he is facing did not happen.”
Considering credibility and reliability, however, is where he fell short.
Leonard took issue with the confused explanations about some events, in particular a voicemail message de Villiers left after the boy’s parents learned of the assault and cut off contact with the doctor.
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In that message, de Villiers apologized for something he said that had never happened before, said it would never happen again and that he felt bad about whatever occurred.
He testified in court that his admission in that call was related to overstepping parental boundaries. The family of the boy, however, believed it was an admission of guilt relating to a sexual assault.
The latter is where Leonard saw merit.
“I find that the text of the voicemail is clear,” she said. “The accused is apologizing for something specific that had occurred and that the accused knew what he was apologizing for.”
The idea that he was apologizing for overstepping, she said, was inconsistent with the explanation that he gave to the police officer. In that case, de Villiers also said he couldn’t remember what he said.
“I do not believe that the accused could not remember what he said in the voicemail,” she said. “I accept that the accused was either attempting to mislead the police … or he had not yet settled on a story that would explain the voicemail.”
She also pointed to another issue in his police testimony. When interviewed by police, de Villiers was asked if he licked the child’s penis and he replied “define lick.”
In the trial, he indicated that he was just shocked by the accusation and was trying to figure out what was meant.
“There was nothing in this question that could have caused confusion,” Leonard said.
“The question did not require the accused to consider whether he had used a licking motion on the complainant’s penis but rather whether he forced himself in any way on the complainant’s penis.”
Overall, she said, the Crown proved its case against de Villiers without a shadow of a doubt.
Over the course of the three-day trial, Leonard had heard evidence from the boy, his parents, a police officer and de Villiers himself.
The boy said he and his sibling had spent the night at de Villiers’ home together a couple of times and he had stayed there alone four or five times. In video testimony recorded in 2021, when the allegations were made to police, the boy said that on more than one occasion, on his solo sleepover, he was shown nudity on a tablet. He said he’d been asked to touch de Villiers sexually and he also was touched sexually.
De Villiers moved away from the town where the boy’s family lived but they maintained weekly contact through video calls. During one of these calls, the boy testified that de Villiers once asked him if his penis had gotten bigger.
The boy’s father testified that when he found out about what had been happening in May 2021, he immediately reported what he heard to the RCMP and cut off contact with de Villiers, who had since moved to the Okanagan where he worked for Interior Health.
De Villiers is still in Kelowna and has surrendered his passport and is not permitted to have one until he’s sentenced. A sentencing date will be set on Feb. 13, at 2 p.m. De Villiers is expected to appear in court for that appearance. He has thus far appeared via video.
De Villiers is facing separate child sex charges for allegations said to have occurred between January 2017 and December 2019 in Alberta. He’s scheduled to face trial on those charges in August.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, support is available:
- The Department of Justice Victim Services Directory includes a list of support services in your area.
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free) Available 24/7 or Text CONNECT 686868