New Brunswick

Snook abuse reports unheeded years ago, court hears

Reports of abuse and inappropriate behaviour by former Saint John councillor Donnie Snook at least six years ago went unheeded, a provincial courtroom heard on Thursday during his sentencing hearing.

Warning: The story contains graphic material that some readers may find disturbing

Reports of abuse and inappropriate behaviour by former Saint John councillor Donnie Snook at least six years ago went unheeded, a provincial courtroom heard on Thursday during his sentencing hearing.

Snook pleaded guilty in May to 46 sex abuse charges dating back to 2001, involving 17 boys as young as five years old.

In 2007, a 14-year-old boy, identified as H.I., told his parents Snook had abused him as he slept, but they didn't believe him, said Crown prosecutor Karen Lee Lamrock.

The boy, who cannot be identified in accordance with a publication ban, then told the Department of Social Development.

Snook was suspended as director of the Saint John Inner City Youth Ministry for three months during an investigation, which went on to the police as well as the Crown, but "no charges were approved," said Lamrock.

Snook returned to work and the boy who made the accusation ended up "ostracized" from all of the activities Snook was involved in, including the hot lunch program for disadvantaged youth, called the Chicken Noodle Club.

"Upon revisiting the matter," the boy was recently reinterviewed and his statement was "darn near identical" to what he had reported six years ago, said Lamrock.

He said he was friends with a foster child of Snook's and slept over at his east side home one night after playing video games. He said he awoke to find Snook performing oral sex, that he could feel Snook's teeth and that it hurt.

Late night activities

The mother of a 15-year-old victim, V.W., had also complained to the Chicken Noodle Club and officials at Saint John the Baptist - King Edward School about Snook's "inappropriate behaviour," said Lamrock.

Her complaint was not of a sexual nature, but that he often came to pick up her son late at night — at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. — and sometimes dropped him off so drunk he couldn't stand, she said.

The boy told police he had known Snook for years, considered him like a teacher, "someone he could trust," and started "hanging around" with him in 2009.

He ended up in foster care, has had run-ins with the law and struggles with addictions, said Lamrock.

Most of the victims have not attended counselling, she said. Very few have provided victim impact statements.

The charges against Snook, 41, include sexual assault, sexually touching a minor while in a position of trust, making child pornography and extortion.

'Hunt of my life'

Lamrock told the court Snook offered boys cash, trips and alcohol as "incentives" to perform sexual acts.

Sometimes, he posed online as a teenaged girl in order to get teenaged boys he knew to send him naked pictures of themselves, she said.

His collection of pornography, which included 14,457 unique images and 620 videos, was mostly of children performing sex acts on themselves or with other children, said Lamrock. Some of them involve adults.

There are also some acts of sadism, including spanking and urination, but they are "few and far between," she said.

Snook shared images with 68 users online, as well as an undercover police officer in Toronto he chatted with, describing his encounters, said Lamrock. "This was the hunt of my life," was just one of the comments Snook made, she said.

There are "thousands of victims," said Lamrock.

"We just don't know who they are."

Victim with cognitive disabilities

When Snook was arrested at his Martha Avenue home by members of the RCMP's internet child exploitation unit in January, he had a 12-year-old boy with cognitive disabilities with him.

Snook admitted to police he planned to live stream video of the boy engaged in sexual acts that day. He said his behaviour was progressing, especially with this boy, known as B.C.

"If ever I felt like a predator, it was now," Snook told police. "I was raring to go and I was going to have [him.]"

Snook abused the boy over a six-month period, said Lamrock. Seven of the charges related to this child, but he has not disclosed any of the abuse, she said.

He literally curls up in a ball and goes silent when questioned, she said.

Snook tried to flee with a laptop that contained the bulk of his child pornography — 15,668 images, which included some duplicates, said Lamrock.

Images were also found stored on a camera memory card, a thumb drive in his office closet and an external hard drive in the drawer of his living room coffee table, she said.

Abused foster child

Another one of Snook's victims, known as C.C., was a 14-year-old boy placed in his care by the Department of Social Development, said Lamrock.

Snook told police the boy was very sexualized and initiated their activity, which included mutual touching and oral sex.

The boy said he remembered it starting one night when he was unable to sleep. He said he went into Snook's room and was invited to sit on his bed.

Fourteen was the age of consent by law at the time, said Lamrock. But Snook was in a position of trust.

This boy was an "anomaly," said Lamrock. After just three days Snook reported the boy's sexualized behaviour to the Department of Social Development and asked that he be removed from his home, she said.

One victim abused for 6 years

One of the victims, known as A.B., was abused by Snook between the ages of nine and 15 — about half his life, said Lamrock. Seven of the charges against Snook relate to him, she said.

A.B. met Snook through the Chicken Noodle Club, which Snook ran for many years.

A.B. was also friends with a foster child who was in Snook's care at the time, said Lamrock. He would often spend the night at Snook's home, where Snook would touch him sexually and perform oral sex, she said.

Snook told police it progressed to intercourse. He said the boy would sometimes ask him to stop and he would. Other times, the boy seemed to enjoy it, he said.

Snook also told police he became less sexually attracted to the boy as he got older and began to worry he would tell someone about the abuse if their interaction stopped. He started to offer "incentives," including up to $20 per sexual encounter, said Lamrock.

He also offered trips to area beaches and water parks, would sometimes supply alcohol to his victims and would let them use drugs in his presence, she said.

Victim A.B. "became quite sexualized," and started to engage in acts with younger children Snook was also abusing, said Lamrock.

In one of the videos shown to provincial court Judge Alfred Brien on a large TV screen positioned away from Snook and the rest of the courtroom, the boy is performing sex acts on another child who is sleeping, while Snook operates the video camera.

Snook can often be heard "shushing" the boys in the videos, said Lamrock. She believes someone was living with Snook at home at the time the abuse was occurring, she said.

A.B. told police he was never forced to do anything, said Lamrock.

The judge asked the Crown how frequent the abuse was. She said Snook and the boy "hung out" once or twice a week, but there wasn't always sexual activity.

When they went to Snook's house, however, it was understood there would be, she said.

'You are raping me'

In the extortion case, Snook, posing as a teenaged girl, threatened to post pictures he already had of a 13-year-old boy on Facebook and YouTube if he refused to pose for him again.

This victim was "non-participatory," stressed Lamrock.

"You are raping me," the boy said. "Yes, but finish it up and it's over," said Snook, promising he would delete everything if the boy posed one more time.

The boy expressed concern he would be made fun of and bullied if any of the photos got posted. "I'm going to kill myself right now," he said. "Why are you doing this to me? Don't you care about me at all?"

The boy eventually concedes. "You actually made me cry, you know," he said before deleting Snook's fake profile from his Facebook friends.

Snook, still posing as the girl, then contacted the boy's brother, who was about six or seven years old, said Lamrock. He told him to tell his brother to add him as a Facebook friend again. "If he doesn't, he knows what's going to happen," Snook said.

He also tried to get the brothers to perform sexual acts together, but they managed to block him, said Lamrock.

Snook later told police about the lengths he was going to. He said he was so absorbed in "the hunt," he lost sense of crossing boundaries.

"It was like, "I can't stop doing it," he said. "Fair to say it was aggressive."

The Crown will submit victim impact statements on Friday for the judge's consideration in sentencing. One of the victims is expected to read his statement aloud, while Lamrock will read at least one other one.

An assessment of Snook, including his risk of reoffending, is also expected to be submitted.

The judge has said he may not sentence Snook until a later date, once he has time to consider all of the information.

It is one of the biggest sex abuse cases in New Brunswick's history, rivaling that of notorious Kingsclear guard Karl Toft, who was convicted in 1992 of 34 abuse charges involving 18 boys.