The former executive pastor of Main Street Church in Chilliwack has been found guilty of accessing and possession of child pornography.
Sitting in the front row of courtroom 204 at the Chilliwack Law Courts, John (Johannes) Vermeer showed no reaction as Judge Andrea Ormiston read the guilty verdict on Friday (April 30).
“I find the Crown establishes evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Vermeer searched for, downloaded and sometimes opened the child porn,” Ormiston said.
“The volume of child porn Mr. Vermeer collected is substantial and longstanding.”
Long and highly technical trial focused on child pornography images found on two computers used by Vermeer at the church. He was charged and convicted on all four counts he faced: two each of possession of child pornography and accessing child pornography for dates in 2015 and 2010.
There was no dispute that the dozens of images of child porn were found on Vermeer’s laptop and his office desktop computer, the issue in the circumstantial case was whether there was a reasonable doubt as to how the images got on his computers.
As a computer expert himself, the 61-year-old Vermeer’s defence amounted to various speculative suggestions that the porn could have been put on the computers remotely by a hacker, maybe a virus or malware, or maybe someone else at the church used his computer.
Judge Andrea Ormiston said Vermeer’s testimony over the course of the trial was internally and externally inconsistent about his computer use and how the child porn got on his computers at the church.
“The impact of his inconsistencies are damaging to his credibility as a witness,” Ormiston said.
“I do not believe Mr. Vermeer.”
The trial began on July 22, 2019 but was delayed a number of times from the start, in part due to disclosure of computer logs and a missing external hard drive.
At the start of the trial, Crown counsel Teresa Mitchell-Banks explained that the IT firm Empyrion used by the church found 81 files with explicit names typical of child pornography. Evidence of more images and videos were later found, some on a laptop computer previously used by Vermeer.
Of the 75 computers eventually scanned in the church, child porn was only found on Vermeer’s two computers.
Vermeer testified in his own defence that he was the one who called police when Empyrion told him about the child porn. But as Judge Ormiston pointed out, he did not do this alone but did so at the urging of senior pastor Shawn Vandop, and it was done while Vandop was present.
A hard drive was missing from his computer, and the court heard evidence that many of the images had been deleted but traces remained in the unallocated space on the computer.
Back in 2018 when charges were laid, Vandop said he informed the congregation at the downtown church and said the news was met with “shock.”
“It’s not something that we want to hear or want to deal with but we live in a broken and messy world with a lot of pain,” he said, adding that right from the beginning of the investigation, church staff were co-operative.
Indeed, while Judge Ormiston found Vermeer’s testimony to be conflicting, unreliable and incredible, the judge found Vandop to be consistent and truthful as a witness.
Vermeer had served as executive pastor – an administrative role – for the church since 2009 until the charges were laid. He and his wife Anita have been married for 39 years and have two grown daughters.
Vermeer’s lawyer Michael Klein discussed timing for a sentencing hearing with Crown and it was determined they would need two days.
The matter was put over to May 11 to establish a day for that sentencing, but it was not discussed whether or not Crown would be seeking jail time.
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