Former B.C. public health officer found guilty of sexually abusing Alberta child

The former chief medical officer of health for British Columbia's Interior region has been found guilty of repeated sexual offences against a young Alberta boy.

Offences happened when the boy was between seven and nine years old

Dr. Albert de Villiers was the chief medical health officer for Interior Health in B.C. He stood trial on charges of sexual assault and sexual interference in Alberta. (CBC News)

WARNING: This article contains references to sexual abuse and may affect those who have experienced​ ​​​abuse or know someone affected by it. 

The former chief medical officer of health for British Columbia's Interior region has been found guilty of repeated sexual offences against a young Alberta boy.

Court of King's Bench Justice Shaina Leonard found Dr. Albert de Villiers guilty of one count each of sexual interference and sexual assault on Tuesday.

De Villiers worked for 16 years as a medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services' North zone. He moved to Kelowna in 2020 to work as the chief medical officer of health for Interior Health.

During a trial last month in Grande Prairie, Alta., court heard evidence that the doctor had sexually abused his friends' child when the boy was between seven and nine years old.

In her Tuesday decision, Leonard found that de Villiers sexually touched the boy between five and eight times between June 15, 2018, and July 31, 2020. 

Leonard found that the boy, now 11, was both "credible and reliable" in his account of what happened.

During the trial, the boy testified that the doctor had shown him pornographic videos and sexually touched him during a number of sleepovers at the doctor's house.

The judge found that while the child seemed confused and unclear when responding to some questions put to him by police and lawyers, he was able to describe "key details" of the offences. She said she was left without a doubt that the child had witnessed de Villiers engaged in sexual acts.

Voicemail as key evidence

An apologetic voicemail that de Villiers left for the boy's father in June 2021 — after the child disclosed what had happened to his parents — became a key part of the Crown prosecutor's case. At that point, the parents had blocked de Villiers on social media and his regular phone number.

In the message, de Villiers tells the father, "I am extremely sorry that what happened did happen" and that he should have come to him earlier.

De Villiers also said "it has never happened before" and said it will not happen again and that "things lead to another."

"I did wrong things and take responsibility for what I have done."

Testifying in his own defence during the trial, de Villiers said the message was in response to realizing he had overstepped in his relationship with the boy by becoming too involved and acting like a parent.

Leonard said Tuesday that she rejects de Villiers' explanation, saying it is clear that he was apologizing for something specific.

"It is not the voicemail from someone who has improperly parented someone else's child," Leonard said.

She added that the overstepping explanation does not match de Villiers' initial explanation to police when he said he didn't know what he'd done to upset the family.

"I accept the accused was attempting to mislead the police ... or he had not yet settled on a story that would explain the voicemail," she said. 

De Villiers appeared in court Tuesday by video from his home in B.C. He remains released on bail.

His next court appearance is Feb. 13 to determine a date for sentencing. 

In a statement Tuesday, Interior Health said it is aware of the judge's finding of guilt against de Villiers.

"Given the leadership and public-facing role of the chief medical health officer, and the critical importance for the incumbent to comply with all respects of professional standards, it is Interior Health's position that a person convicted of criminal charges of this nature is unable to fulfil the duties of the position," it said. 

De Villiers was placed on paid leave by Interior Health on June 8, 2021, the same day he was arrested and charged.

Interior Health said it would not comment further, citing ongoing court proceedings involving de Villiers.

De Villiers is scheduled to go to trial on three other charges in August involving another child.

In that case, de Villiers faces one count each of voyeurism, sexual touching and making sexually explicit materials available to a child.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911. 


Paige Parsons is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She has specialized in justice issues and city hall, but now covers anything from politics to rural culture. She previously worked for the Edmonton Journal. She can be reached at paige.parsons@cbc.ca.