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Chilliwack church pastor takes child pornography conviction to B.C. Court of Appeal

John Vermeer’s lawyers argue technicalities despite being caught with ‘harmful and depraved’ child porn
Former Main Street Church executive pastor John Vermeer was convicted of downloading and possessiong child pornography and sentenced to 14 months jail in October 2021. Vermeer’s appeal was heard on April 3, 2023. (Facebook file photo)

Chilliwack’s Johannes (John) Vermeer was convicted of downloading and possessing child pornography and sentenced to 14 months jail, but the former Main Street Church executive pastor says the provincial court judge who convicted him made mistakes.

Vermeer was sentenced in October 2021, but he has been out on bail awaiting his hearing at the B.C. Court of Appeal, which was held Monday (April 3, 2023).

Vermeer had two lawyers, different from his trial lawyer, who made the case that the judge erred in a finding of guilt on three grounds. Those included that despite RCMP officers finding “some of the most offensive, harmful and depraved forms of abuse on children” on two computers used exclusively by Vermeer at the church, the evidence should not have been allowed.

Lawyer Reza Mansoori-Dara began the appeal by arguing that a voir dire hearing to address the reliability and admissability of the computer evidence should have been held before or during the trial. He said that some inconsistencies with the evidence, such as dates on files that did not make sense, showed irregularities that should have led to reasonable doubt.

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Vermeer was charged with one count each of possession of child pornography and accessing child pornography from May 1, 2010. He also faced the same charges with an offence date of March 17, 2015.

It was in 2015 when an anti-virus company sent an alert to Empyrion Technologies, which provided IT services to the church. Vermeer’s computer was found to be using a peer-to-peer file sharing software program, and was connected to an external hard drive. Child pornography files were found in the unallocated space on two computers, meaning the files had been deleted and the trash had been emptied.

There was no evidence of hacking, no evidence that a virus could put child porn on his computers, as his lawyer Michael Klein tried to suggest, and no evidence anyone else used the computers.

Part of Vermeer’s lawyer’s appeal argument in court on Monday focused on the unallocated space, because once files are deleted, it is incomplete data so, his lawyer suggested, was unreliable evidence.

There were also files on the computer that did not make sense, some predated the existence of the laptop. At trial, Judge Andrea Ormiston said the dates should be approached with caution. Mansoori-Dara argued Monday that this was not enough, and it should have been discussed whether the files were admissible in the first place as per the Canada Evidence Act.

Another grounds of appeal was the argument that Judge Ormiston relied on hearsay evidence in stating that a software program used by Vermeer was used to find and delete files based on an expert who had never used the particular program, just seen the program’s menu options.

The lawyer for the Crown responded that it didn’t matter what software was used, the files had definitely been deleted because they were found in the unallocated space, where deleted files end up.

“The files were deleted,” she said. “Only he could have done it, (the software used) doesn’t matter.”

Crown said Vermeer’s lawyer was the only one who knew some dates on the computer predated the existence of the computer, and if a voir dire was held on admissiabililty “he would have had to play his cards,” and he didn’t ask for one.

Additionally, “defence counsel are presumed to be competent,” so how would the judge know to ask for something that might help defence?

The trial itself was highly technical, both with regards to the computer systems used but also for legal reasons. The appeal hearing was similar in this regard.

The hearing was held on one day in Vancouver on April 3, and the three justices reserved their decision to a future date.

READ MORE: OPINION: Chilliwack pastor convicted of possession of ‘depraved’ child porn appeals conviction

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