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Former senior health official in B.C., Alberta awaits sentencing for sex crimes involving child

Click to play video: 'Former IH top doctor convicted of sexual assault'
Former IH top doctor convicted of sexual assault
WATCH: Dr. Albert De Villiers, who was the Interior health authority's top doctor until June of 2021, was convicted Tuesday following a three-day, high-profile sex assault trial that wrapped up in January. – Feb 7, 2023

WARNING: This article contains disturbing content.

Convicted child molester Dr. Albert de Villiers chose not to make a statement Monday at a sentencing hearing for his sex crimes against a child who once called him “uncle.”

The disgraced doctor, who was once at the top in his field in both Interior Health and Alberta Health Services North zone, could see between four and eight years in prison for sexual assault and sexual interference, as per recommendations from Crown counsel and defence lawyers.

King’s Bench Justice Saina Leonard will deliberate overnight and give de Villiers his sentence in a Grande Prairie, Alta., courtroom on Tuesday.

De Villiers, 54, was found guilty of assaulting the child five to seven times between 2018 and 2020 while the child was between the ages of seven and nine years old. De Villiers told the court during his February trial that he considered his relationship with the boy to be one of a surrogate grandparent, and the boy trusted him so much that he referred to him as an uncle.

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Despite this description of their bond, de Villers showed the child pornographic videos, inappropriately touched him and performed near oral sex, the court heard.

The child’s mother told the court through a written victim impact statement that the boy’s behaviour started to change before they learned what  De Villiers, who the family first struck up a friendship with in 2018, had done. They had already considered bringing the child to a counsellor following some peculiar behaviour.

“His teacher called to say one day he was sleeping in class,” she said. “On another occasion, he complained about a pain in his heart.”

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The pain he described was such that they brought the boy to a hospital where he was hooked up to an ECG monitor but it turned out that what he was experiencing was the physical manifestation of “stress and anxiety.” He later described it as when his heart turned black.

Click to play video: 'Child sex assault trial for Interior Health’s former top doctor underway in Alberta'
Child sex assault trial for Interior Health’s former top doctor underway in Alberta

Things have not improved greatly since then and said her son’s “spark” is gone, the mother wrote.

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“He has repeatedly told us he was afraid (de Villiers) would show up at our house or at his school,” his mother said.

He needed to sleep in his parents’ bed to feel safe, and the house was filled with triggers that caused him more stress.

As such, the family moved, selling a home they’d only lived in for a few years at a financial loss. The whole family has suffered financial hardship, stress, emotional pain and fear.

The boy said in his victim impact statement that he’s lost trust in people and often wrestled with why he was the victim of the attack.

These cascading effects on the victim and his family were revisited when Crown counsel advocated for an eight-year sentence, one that is stronger than many other child offenders face, though the maximum sentence has recently been increased to 14 years.

“Parliament has demonstrated we cannot continue to treat child sex assault cases the same way as adult sexual assaults and the sentences must reflect that,” Crown prosecutor Amber Pickrell told Leonard, advocating that Leonard follow along with the evolution of law in this context.

Click to play video: 'Interior Health’s chief medical health officer arrested'
Interior Health’s chief medical health officer arrested

The fact that De Villiers showed the boy pornography during sleepovers before the sexual touching began, Pickrell said, suggests that there was some grooming for the assaults.

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“He was isolated from his family already, with someone he is supposed to be able to trust. He was a child that was dependent on the adults … in whose home he was staying,” she said. “And again, the pornography was shown to (make him) more comfortable, more easily exploited.”

The defence lawyer argued the assault was not as severe as many others and has suggested the sentencing range start at four years.  She also said that de Villiers has already suffered greatly for the attention paid to this case, and that should be factored into sentencing.

De Villiers is also 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

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