LETHBRIDGE – A 44-year-old teacher on the Piikani Nation has been charged with possessing, accessing, and distributing child pornography.
Mark Anderson, a resident of Pincher Creek, was arrested Thursday, Jan. 12, after an investigation by the ALERT Internet Child Exploitation unit. Pincher Creek and Piikani Nation RCMP and Lethbridge Police were also involved.
ALERT said Anderson is a teacher at Brocket Elementary School, and is involved with programs such as minor sports and Scouts Canada on the reserve.
The investigation began in July 2017 when ICE was contacted by the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children about materials being uploaded on social media. ALERT said it only recently learned the user in question is a teacher.
“In the last couple days, essentially,” explained Cst. Jason Richmond, when asked when they learned Anderson was a teacher. “It was a very recent discovery, which is why this file moved forward as quick as it did after we found out.
“Once the national centre receives information from the social media account that's involved in the trafficking or distributing of child pornography, they have to assign it to a Canadian law enforcement agency in that area,” he continued, going over the timeline for how such an investigation normally unfolds. “From there, we need judicial authorizations to find out any information about the internet at the house from the service providers, and do our portion of the investigation to determine who it is, which can take up to, usually, about 12 to 18 months or so. Obviously, this one was moved ahead.”
Richmond said that while he’s not sure exactly how the Peigan Board of Education has dealt with Anderson, he confirmed that the teacher will not be returning to the school. He also noted that the board of education is taking steps to support students.
“They've indicated they have counsellors going to every home to speak with parents and children personally, if any of them were affected, because this is a lot to take on mentally for a child,” explained Richmond. “Obviously, we're saying again, no indication of physical offences at this point.”
The next step, according to Richmond, is to search the electronic devices seized from Anderson’s home.
“Right now, we just have a small portion of the images and everything that was downloaded, and we're going to continue our investigation with an examination of his devices, which will yield, I believe, further images and videos. So, from there, we'll send that to Ottawa and [the RCMP’s] national centre and determine if it's anyone in Alberta or Canada that's been affected by this,” he stated.
“One thing that I would really like to outline is the cooperation we've got from the Napi’s Playground Elementary School and Peigan Board of Education,” said Richmond. “They were not aware of any of this until yesterday (Jan. 12), hours after he was arrested. So, they had no knowledge of this.”
While the investigation and charges are confined to alleged online offences, Richmond added that anyone with information about Anderson or this case should come forward, reporting it to local police or cybertip.ca.
Anderson had previously been a student teacher at Sunnyside School in the Palliser School Division, and was featured in an article entitled “My name is Piitawotaan: How a white man was adopted into the Piikani First Nation in Southern Alberta”, published by the Calgary Journal in April of 2017.
He is set to appear in court Jan. 30.
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