New Brunswick

Mother of alleged victim asks why sex offender was put in son's special care home

A Saint John woman whose son reported being sexually assaulted in his special care home says the province "knowingly and willingly" put vulnerable people at risk when it placed a convicted sex offender in the home.

Vulnerable people are put at risk when province doesn't check residents' records, Saint John woman says

Joann's Special Care Home on Queen Street in Saint John was the scene of an alleged sexual assault. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

A Saint John woman whose son reported being sexually assaulted in his special care home says the province "knowingly and willingly" put vulnerable people at risk when it placed a convicted sex offender in the home.

The man accused in her son's case has been on the national sex offender registry since 2011 and was serving a conditional sentence for sexually assaulting a woman in 2016 when the Department of Social Development placed him in the home.

It was an accident waiting to happen. And now I want answers.- Mother of resident who complained of sex assault

"I don't want this to happen again," the mother said in an interview.

But she's already been told by the Department of Social Development that it does not require criminal record checks for special care home residents, she said. 

CBC News is not publishing the mother's name because the identity of her 28-year-old son, the complainant, is protected by a court-ordered publication ban.

The accused is 29-year-old Andrew Michael Douglas. He appeared in court Thursday and entered a plea of not guilty on a charge of sexual assault.

A two-day trial is scheduled to start Aug. 17.

Assigned to job centre 

Special care homes in New Brunswick accommodate people who need special assistance or supervision because of physical or intellectual disabilities.  

The complainant and the accused both lived at Joann's Special Care home on Queen Street in Saint John, which is licensed for nine residents.

The mother of the alleged victim said Social Development also put vulnerable adults at risk at the Catena Job Training Centre on Grandview Avenue, where Douglas was assigned to receive skills training.

A Saint John mother wants to know how a convicted sexual offender serving a conditional sentence was placed in a special care home with vulnerable adults. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)
Catena is a non-profit that assists adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Staff there confirmed that Social Development did send Douglas there but said nothing about any prior record. 

Staff said they still knew nothing in March when a social worker and the police came to pull Douglas out of the program. 

"This was wrong on so many levels," said the complainant's mother. "It was an accident waiting to happen. And now I want answers." 

Complicated sentence

Douglas is expected to remain in custody until the trial, serving jail time on the remainder of a sentence that, when first imposed, was conditional — meaning he could continue to reside in the community.

At the time of the alleged offence in the special care home, Douglas was serving an 18-month conditional sentence for sexually assaulting a woman in a Saint John parking lot in February 2016.

Five weeks into that sentence, Douglas was charged with common assault against a woman. 

He pleaded guilty to that charge on Nov. 3, 2016, and as a result, the judge ordered Douglas to serve 60 days in jail.  

Moved into home in winter

He was then expected to resume the conditional sentence in the community.

The mother of the complainant believes it was around mid-January, when Douglas was out of custody again, that he was placed in the Queen Street home.

Apart from the incident, Joann's home has been a happy residence for her son since he first  November 2015, when he first moved in.  

Since Douglas was removed from the home, her son has returned to living there.

Lack of information

Owner-operator Joann LaPointe confirmed to the CBC that Douglas's placement in her residence was facilitated by Social Development. 

She said all she heard from the department was that Douglas had been on probation for something involving the internet. 

"They're supposed to tell me everything I need to know," she said. By "they," LaPointe meant the social workers managing Douglas's file. 

In 2011, Douglas was placed on the national sex offender registry for trying to persuade a 10-year-old girl to show him her naked chest.

When asked if she had done any of her own research on Douglas, LaPointe replied that she had not and that she does not use a computer. 

After 30 years operating the home, she said she is preparing to retire in June. 

A two-day trial has been set for 29-year-old Andrew Michael Douglas after he pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual assault in court. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

The complainant's mother said it appears that Social Development employees failed to disclose critical information to the special care home operator and the other residents and their families.

"In my opinion, we have a dangerous individual," she said. 

The mother feels a correctional facility of some kind would be more appropriate.

"He doesn't belong in a special care home," she said.

The mother is now calling for better vetting of special care home residents and full disclosure of any criminal record that would suggest the resident might pose a risk to others.

She has written Premier Brian Galllant, the ombudsman and several ministers in the provincial government. 

No criminal check needed

On May 1, Lisa Harris, the minister of seniors and long-term care, responded to a series of questions from the mother.

Harris informed her by email that the Department of Social Development does not require a criminal record check or a Social Development check for special care home residents.

Harris also informed the mother that the matter is under investigation and that the result of that investigation will determine what policy changes may be required.

In an email to CBC News, department spokesperson Anne Mooers did not answer questions about department policy in general, saying there could be no comment on specific cases before the courts.

The mother of the complainant said he was placed into special care as a young adult. He was born premature, at 25 weeks, and was diagnosed with Asperger's. He also has a benign brain tumour, she said.

"Caring for him had been a challenge."

Traumatized as a child

The mother said her son suffered from severe depression and has attempted suicide.

He was also badly traumatized by a sexual assault when he was six years old at the hands of a babysitter.

She said the police were informed in Calgary, where the family used to reside, but charges weren't laid. 

Her son has been struggling lately and is anxious about testifying at the trial.

He's expected to be the main witness.

But the mother said she's speaking out with his consent.

"I want assurances this will not repeat itself," she said.

Criminal history

In 2011, Douglas pleaded guilty to using a computer between June 26, 2008, and Sept. 24, 2008, to communicate with people under the age of 18 for the purpose of producing child pornography.

It came about after a 13-year-old girl had been using her Facebook account on a computer at the Kennebecasis Public Library, where she walked away without logging off. 

When Douglas came along, he accessed her open account, changed her password and then began posing as her online.

That's how he started communicating with one of her 10-year-old friends and struck up a sexually explicit conversation. 

When the girl refused to show him her breasts, the court heard that Douglas then threatened to create a website about her and put her phone number on it.

He made good on that threat and posted one of the girl's own Facebook pictures showing herself in a bathing suit. 

The Crown prosecutor did not ask for jail time because all parties agreed that Douglas was developmentally delayed. 

Two-year sentence

Douglas was sentenced to two years of supervised probation and prohibited from using a computer with anyone under the age of 16 for 10 years.

He was ordered to participate in counselling for sex offenders.

He was also put on the sex offender registry and was ordered to give police a sample of his DNA.

In September 2016, Douglas pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a woman in the parking lot of the Service Canada Centre off Agar Place in February 2016.

At sentencing, the judge imposed an 18-month conditional sentence.

The following month, while serving that conditional sentence, Douglas was charged with common assault. 

On Oct. 24, 2016, after pleading guilty to common assault against a woman, the existing conditional sentence was suspended and Douglas was ordered by the court to serve 60 days in jail. 

Returned to jail

On March 28, 2017, in response to the newest allegation, there was a revocation hearing and what the court calls a conditional sentence conversion.

At that time, Douglas was ordered to serve the remainder of his conditional sentence in custody, which is where he remains.

At Thursday's hearing, when Douglas entered a not guilty plea to sexual assault, duty counsel asked the court to try to find a trial date before the conditional sentence expired in November 2017.

When the trial in August, the court will likely hear testimony from special care home staff and the police as well as the complainant.