Thunder Bay police charge former Manitoba teacher with possessing child pornography

A man who used to teach at high schools in Manitoba's Seine River School Division has been arrested in Thunder Bay, Ont., and charged with possessing child sex abuse files.

Jason William Sparling, 42, charged after police seized several devices at a home last week

Jason William Sparling, 42, was charged with accessing and possessing child sex abuse files after police seized several devices as part of an investigation by its cyber crimes unit. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A 42-year-old man who previously taught at two high schools in Manitoba's Seine River School Division was arrested Thursday in Thunder Bay, Ont., and charged with possessing child sex abuse files.

The school division's superintendent, Michael Borgfjord, said he was notified Friday morning of the arrest of Jason William Sparling by the Thunder Bay Police Service.

Borgfjord said Sparling left the province in July, when he took a leave of absence from the school division. Before that, he had taught in the division since 2007, working at Collège Lorette Collegiate and Collège St. Norbert Collegiate.

"It was something you don't expect to be notified about and obviously [we're] very concerned about the charges," Borgfjord said. 

Officers with the Thunder Bay Police Service's cybercrimes unit started an investigation in October, when they located suspicious files that were made available for download, the police service said in a news release.

Through the online investigation, officers learned the files being shared were consistent with child sex abuse files and that the address of the user accessing those files was in Thunder Bay, the release said.

As a result of these findings, police executed a search warrant at a home in the 100 block of Robertson Street in Thunder Bay on Nov. 26. Evidence connected with the investigation was seized, including several devices, police said.

Investigators examined the evidence and arrested and charged Sparling with accessing and possessing child pornography on Nov. 28.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

'Saddening and disheartening': superintendent

Borgfjord said Sparling's departure from the school division had nothing to do with any difficulties, as far as he was aware. He said school division staff were "shocked" to hear the news of Sparling's arrest.

"Anytime something like this happens, it's very saddening and disheartening. I think shock is probably the best way to explain it, but we're definitely going to do what we need to do to support the communities and the school, and do what needs to be done."

Borgfjord said the division is co-operating with police to provide any information they require. He said because the teacher's departure was a leave of absence, Sparling is still technically an employee of the division.

"Obviously, we have to do our own due diligence to make sure that, in light of the information that's come forward, [we] make sure to check in to internally what, if anything, that we should be concerned about," he said.

Borgfjord said division staff haven't yet discussed whether they will send a notice home to parents, although as far as he knows, the charges against Sparling have nothing to do with his time in Manitoba.

"We're still in the process of going through the steps we need to take," said Borgfjord.

Sparling appeared in bail court Friday and was remanded into custody. He will appear in court again on Tuesday.

A LinkedIn profile in Sparling's name describes him as a high school teacher specializing in Grades 9 to 11, with certifications in Manitoba and Ontario.

"I am responsible for creating lesson plans, motivating students, formative and summative assessment, and reporting of student progress to parents, administrators, and support workers," was written in the entry describing his time in the Seine River School Division.

With files from Holly Caruk