Saint John councillor faces 8 child exploitation charges

Saint John Coun. Donnie Snook has been charged with eight child exploitation charges, including making and distributing child pornography and sexual touching.

Donnie Snook, 40, did not enter pleas on the child porn, sexual touching offences

Rachel Cave talks with Connell Smith about the Donnie Snook child pornography charges 5:35

Saint John Coun. Donnie Snook has been charged with eight child exploitation charges, including making and distributing child pornography and sexual touching.

Snook, 40, did not enter a plea during a brief appearance in provincial court on Thursday afternoon.

Defence lawyer Dennis Boyle requested the matter be adjourned without plea, saying he needed time to review the file, which includes charges dating from 2006 until this month and a year-long investigation by three different police forces in New Brunswick and Toronto.

Crown prosecutor Karen Lee Lamrock objected to Snook's release.

He has been remanded in custody at the Saint John Regional Correction Centre until Monday at 1:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, Snook remains a second-term city councillor, but has been suspended with pay as director of the Saint John Inner City Youth Ministry.

The charges against him include three counts of touching a child for a sexual purpose between December 2006 and January 2013.

Those three counts all involve the same alleged victim, a child under the age of 16 from the Saint John area, said RCMP Cpl. Chantal Farrah.

The other charges include:

  • One count of making child pornography between March 2011 and January 2013
  • Two counts of possession of child pornography during the same period
  • Two counts of distribution of child pornography between March 2011 and December 2012

The number of images and videos involved and location of the children involved is still under investigation, said Farrah.

"I would say that all of these are serious charges because they’re on victims or on children, people who are defenceless and they’re all horrible crimes," she said.

More charges are possible, Farrah added.

Snook was ordered by Judge David Walker not to have any direct or indirect contact with anyone under the age of 16, any witness or any alleged victims.

The Crown is proceeding with indictable charges, which are more serious than summary offences.

All of the counts carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and minimum sentence of one year in jail, other than the possession charge, which carries a maximum of five years in prison and minimum of six months in jail.

Snook "is entitled to hold office under the provisions of the [New Brunswick] Municipalities Act until there is a violation," Mayor Mel Norton said in a written statement following the court appearance.

"Section 34(1) of the New Brunswick Municipalities Act outlines the provisions that may result in a council vacancy," he said.

Possible violations include: an offence punishable by imprisonment of five or more years, or Criminal Code charges of fraud or breach of trust; municipal corruption; selling or purchasing office; or influencing or negotiating appointments or dealing in offices.

"This is a personal matter for Coun. Snook and a matter for the courts. We will not be commenting any further," the mayor said.

Snook was marched by RCMP officers down Chipman Hill and through the Shoppes of City Hall in handcuffs for his provincial court appearance.

Snook, who was dressed casually, wearing a blue shirt and jeans, appeared tired.

He sat in the prisoner's box with his head down, his feet in shackles as about 40 spectators looked on.

Some people gasped as the charges against him were read aloud.

Police officers and extra sheriffs were on duty at the provincial court for the case. They were searching bags and using metal detectors.

Councillor arrested at his house

Snook was arrested at his east side bungalow on Martha Avenue on Wednesday night in connection with an investigation by the RCMP's Internet Child Exploitation Unit.

The investigation began in 2011 in Toronto, said Farrah, declining to elaborate. "That’s all information that’s going to come out in court but the information originated from the Toronto police," she said.

RCMP Cpl. Chantal Farrah says the joint police investigation began in 2011. (Susan King/CBC)

Police seized computer equipment and child sexual abuse images during a search of Snook's home, she said.

Snook had just returned on Monday from a trip to Newfoundland for the Christmas holidays.

The New Brunswick RCMP's Internet Child Exploitation Unit, District 3 RCMP, New Brunswick RCMP Tech Crime Unit, the Saint John Police Force and the Toronto Police Service have all been involved in the investigation, according to a release.

"The internet is borderless so these investigations can lead us anywhere and depending on the seriousness of what we see, for us it doesn't really matter. If it's serious enough it can take us anywhere. And in this case it took us to Saint John," said Det. Paul Krawczyk, of the Toronto Police Force's Sex Crimes Unit, Child Exploitation Section.

"We investigate those who trade images and videos of child abuse and we also do victim identification work where we trace the images online and try to rescue the children and we also handle child lurings, where people are trying to lure children over the internet," he said, declining any further comment.

Suspended from Youth Ministry

Snook is a second-term councillor, director of the Saint John Inner City Youth Ministry, and active community volunteer. He has also been a foster parent in the past.

He has been suspended from the Youth Ministry with pay "pending further information," said board president Mark Slader.

Archbishop Claude Miller, of the Anglican Diocese of Fredericton, said in a statement both he and the diocese were "shocked and concerned" by Snook's arrest.

Diocesan officials will co-operate fully in the police investigation, the archbishop said.

Donnie Snook, 40, is director of the Saint John Inner City Youth Ministry, which runs a hot lunch program for disadvantaged students. (CBC)

Police officers were still at Snook's home on Thursday morning.

They executed a search warrant late Wednesday night and seized a laptop bag, among other items.

Two marked Saint John police vehicles were on site, along with three media vehicles.

The woman in the adjoining semi-detached bungalow refused to comment.

Another neighbour two doors down had a sign posted on the door that read: No comment.

Officials at the St. John the Baptist-King Edward Church, where Snook has operated the so-called Chicken Noodle Club, a daily hot lunch program for disadvantaged children, for several years, also declined to comment.

Meanwhile, City Hall and the community at large are reeling from the news, said the mayor.

"Much like everyone in the community, we’re waiting to hear what might follow," Norton told CBC News before Snook's court appearance.

"What I’ve mostly heard are just indications of shock and surprise and concern and many people waiting to know what the next steps might be."