A former North Okanagan gymnastics coach previously facing charges of child pornography will spend the next six months under a conditional sentence order.
Chad McDowell, 43, was handed the sentence by Judge Mark Takahashi in Vernon provincial court Friday, March 8. Originally facing charges of possession of child pornography, accessing child pornography and importing or distributing child pornography, McDowell pleaded guilty to, and was sentenced for, one count of possession of obscene material for the purpose of circulation.
“There is no suggestion from any parent or child that he had been coaching gymnastics with, and the police did interview a number of them, that he had ever touched one of the children inappropriately or acted in a sexually inappropriate way to any of the children,” defence counsel Julian van der Walle said. “He is extremely remorseful. He has abided by his bail conditions almost religiously.”
An online investigation into suspected was launched June 6, 2017, by the B.C. Integrated Child Exploitation Unit, into the possible possession of obscene materials. A search warrant of McDowell’s residence on June 16, 2017, resulted in the seizure of several electronic devices.
“Files consistent with the user of the iPad and iPhone accessing child pornography were found on the iPad and iPhone,” said Crown prosecutor Brock Bellrichard.
McDowell, van der Walle said, suffered an accident as a child that caused “intellectual deficits” likely to be permanent. This accident caused McDowell to suffer from regular seizures at a young age and impacted his ability to socialize with other children. He also suffers from recurring pain as a result of the accident.
“Since the accident when he was six-years-old, he basically, his entire life, had a very hard time socializing with people and getting to know them in a more meaningful way beyond merely just being superficial,” van der Walle said.
Shortly after his high school graduation, McDowell began teaching gymnastics. McDowell came to Vernon from Canmore in 2011 as a coach and continued that career until his arrest.
“Since his arrest, my client has taken steps to rectify things. He is deeply remorseful for what he was doing. My client advises that he was suicidal after the arrest.”
As a result, McDowell has spent more than 100 hours in counselling and is no longer suicidal, van der Walle said.
The circulation portion of the charge, van der Walle said, comes from the documents being in a shared folder on McDowell’s devices.
Other mitigating factors include McDowell’s guilty plea to the lesser charge that saved the Supreme Court a two-week trial. The defence also has a strong charter argument involving several breach allegations that could have resulted in some of the evidence being excluded, van der Walle said.
In addition to the six-month conditional sentence, the joint-submission sought a three-year probation order and 10-year common law peace bond, under which McDowell cannot be in possession of any device capable of using any internet browser or any device capable of facilitating access to the World Wide Web, among other restrictions.
The Crown entered a stay of proceedings on the charges of possession of child pornography, accessing child pornography and importing or distributing child pornography.