Donnie Snook's sex-related charges divide Saint John

Child exploitation charges against Saint John city councillor and youth ministry director Donnie Snook have the city divided and residents searching for answers.

Community searching for answers

Donnie Snook, 40, is facing five child pornography-related charges and three counts of touching a child for a sexual purpose. (CBC)

Child exploitation charges against Saint John city councillor and youth ministry director Donnie Snook have the city divided and residents searching for answers.

Two Facebook groups were created on Tuesday: Pray for Donnie, and Donnie Snook: Guilty or Not Guilty?

Meanwhile, some of Snook's young Facebook friends are sharing an equally wide range of opinions through posts on his Facebook page, which remains active.

Some are defensive. "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

But others express a sense of betrayal. "We all know you as a sick person."

One adult posted: "Now is the time to have a difficult but needed chat with your children that had a past with Donnie."

Snook, 40, is charged with three counts of touching a child for a sexual purpose, one count of making child pornography, two counts of distributing child pornography, and two counts of possession.

The second-term councillor and now-suspended director of the Saint John Inner City Youth Ministry was arrested by the RCMP’s Internet Child Exploitation Unit on Jan. 9 and will remain in jail until at least Jan. 21, when he is scheduled to appear at a bail hearing.

Snook has not yet entered any pleas.

The investigation continues and more charges are possible, police have said.

"I have unconditional love for Donnie," said Rose Turner, who attended Snook`s bail hearing on Monday, which was adjourned until next week at his lawyer`s request.

"He's still my friend and I'll never shun him or walk away from him," said Turner. "Anything I can do for Donnie, I would do for him," she said.

Christie Belyea, who ran against Snook in the last municipal election, however, contends Snook should lose his seat on council.

"Another reason I came here [to the bail hearing] is he used to be down at the Carleton Community Centre on the West Side," said Belyea.

"My children were down there — not that anything happened to my kids — but you know, just the fact that this here incident kinda freaked me out a little," she said.

'Troubling time for children'

"My heart really goes out to the kids in the community," said Bobby Hayes, director of the Joshua Group, a non-profit group for low-income or at risk children in the city.

Hayes says dozens of youth, some as young as five, right through to their late teens, have been asking him questions about Snook. Many of them know Snook through the Chicken Noodle Club, a hot lunch program he has operated for years.

"This is a really troubling time for children," said Hayes. "Everything’s still up in the air and a lot of things going through kids’ heads."

"I think some of the kids are scared. Some of them are in disbelief. A lot of kids are wondering now, who do you trust?"

Others are angry, he said. "It’s like they’ve been tricked … It’s like this person or these people aren’t what they’re supposed to be, and that hurts."

Hayes says he too is in "shock" and can't offer the children any answers, but is doing his best to reassure them that they're safe and that the matter is being handled by "professionals" — police and the courts.

Still, Snook's arrest should serve as a wake-up call for parents and help raise awareness, said Hayes.

"You need to know where your kid is going, who he's with, who he's talking to, who's involved with my child and the impact they're having on that child."

"It certainly puts a watch on all [children's charities,] which it should."

The Joshua Group, which offers food, clothing, sporting activities, and social support to about 100 children between the ages of two and 18, has an open door policy, said Hayes.

"There is no behind the door, one-on-one with kids, it doesn’t happen here," he said.

The Praying for Donnie Facebook group, which was created shortly after noon, had garnered 21 likes`` by about 8 p.m., and several comments.

The other Facebook group, Donnie Snook: Guilty or Not Guilty?, was created about an hour later, had 18 likes by 8 p.m. and also generated several postings.