Former MCFD manager sentenced for child pornography

A former manager with B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development has been sentenced to eight months in jail followed by two years probation on child pornography charges.

Edward Owen Berry, 55, was issued the term Tuesday by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ron Tindale following a hearing in which Crown prosecutor Marie-Louise Ahrens argued for one year in jail and three years probation and defence counsel Jonathan Desbarats sought six months and two years.

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The significance of Berry's occupation at the time of his arrest was a point of debate.

Given that by virtue of his position, he was effectively the guardian of thousands of vulnerable children, Ahrens maintained he violated a position of trust. In turn, Desbarats countered that there was no connection between the youth depicted in the images and those under his care.

Tindale agreed with Desbarats on that point but also agreed with Ahrens that because of his position, Berry knows better than most the harm child pornography wreaks on its victims.

"Mr. Berry's moral culpability is high," Tindale said.

Berry was arrested in December 2014, eight months after images of child pornography were found on a tablet computer recovered from a fire in the 3200-block Westwood Drive apartment building where he had been living.

RCMP subsequently executed search warrants on Berry's home in Vancouver and on his secondary home in the 6800 block of Domano Boulevard and seized a tablet, an external hard drive and a laptop. In all, 600 to 800 images and 120 videos were extracted, most depicting teenage boys and the vast majority considered to be at the lower end of the scale in terms of depravity although some involved sexual acts and some depicted youth much younger.

Following a voire dire, or a trial on admissibility of the evidence, Berry was found guilty of the counts through a directed verdict - essentially a finding that there is no basis to reach a different conclusion.

On the expectation his time in the region would last just two years, Berry had agreed to move to Prince George in 2011. Because his wife also worked in MCFD, she and their family could not follow him due to concerns over conflict of interest.

Berry's job was described as high stress and involving long hours - as many as 70 hours per week - and he was on call virtually all the time and often dealt with "very disturbing incidents involving children," the court was told. In a senior management position, he was also responsible for a budget in the $100 million range.

Feeling trapped in a small community with few if any friends and isolated from his family, Berry began drinking. Moreover, Berry's troubled upbringing came into play, according to Desbarats.

Not only was his father was an abusive alcoholic but Berry was also the target of sexual abuse at the hands of a councillor in the Boys and Girls Cub. It just so happened his abuser, who is no longer alive, was living in the north and Berry decided to confront him.

Berry's began to decline mentally but he was unable to seek professional help because of his extensive personal connections to such people.

Berry did not speak during the hearing but, in a statement said he was "devastated that my poor choices led to harm to any children. This is something that I worked my entire life to mitigate and increase support systems to lessen. I acknowledge that those with careers in children protection and social work are held to a higher standard and rightfully so."

Since his arrest, Berry has stopped drinking and sought help for depression, an ailment for which he was first diagnosed in 1986. In 2014, he spent 30 days in psychiatric care and has since received ongoing counselling to gain better insight into his actions.

Berry was described by both Crown and defence as an otherwise upstanding person who has made extensive contributions to bettering the lives of others and one who poses a low risk to reoffend.

He has already paid a price, the court was also told. He lost a job that paid $120,000 a year along with its health benefits, was subsequently let go from a job at a restoration company because employees did not want to work with him, has run up an extensive credit card debt and has twice been evicted from homes his family had been renting. Although the evictions were legally questionable, they chose not to fight them, Desbarats said.

The media attention the case has generated continues to follow him.

"He's suffered shame and embarrassment in a very public way," Desbarats said.

Crown and defence had argued for sentences at the low end of the range. For the offences as committed at that time, the range is six months to five years when pursued on an indictable basis. In 2015, the range was increased to one year and 10 years.

Terms of the probation include refraining from taking on jobs or volunteer roles that involve working with youth 16 years or under. He must also participate and complete any treatment program or counselling as directed by his probation officer.

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