Disturbing news from British Columbia has emerged as the former chief medical health officer to Interior Health (IH) has been found guilty of sexually touching a child.
On Tuesday, the Court of King's Bench of Alberta Justice Shaina Leonard convicted Kelowna-native Dr. Albert de Villiers of sexually assaulting a child and sexual interference in multiple incidents in Grande Prairie, Alberta, between 2018 and 2020.
At the time he received the charges, he worked as IH's chief medical health officer from the summer of 2020 to June 2021, as the health authority's go-to person for communicating COVID information to the public.
Before moving to the Okanagan, de Villiers worked as a medical health officer for Alberta Health Services for 16 years. The allegations he's been convicted of occurred while Alberta Health Services employed him.
The disgraced doctor's conviction comes after a three-day trial last month.
During the trial, which ran from January 10 to 12 in Grande Prairie, Alberta, the court heard testimony from the victim, who's now 11 years old, the child's parents, and de Villiers himself.
Any information that could identify the victim is protected under a publication ban.
According to court proceedings, the child told his mother in May 2021 that de Villiers had previously shown him pornographic videos during several sleepovers and touched his penis.
The child said de Villiers had put his mouth on the child's penis.
The child, who was between seven and nine years old when the assaults occurred, informed the police that they happened repeatedly.
When the police arrested de Villiers the following month, an officer asked him if he had ever licked the child's penis. De Villiers asked the officer to "define lick."
De Villiers testified that his arrest overwhelmed and confused him, so he had asked the officer to clarify the allegation of licking the child's penis.
During his trial, he admitted to sharing a tent with the child and a sibling during a campout. He also said he once slept alone in a basement bedroom with the child.
The child testified that he told his mother in May 2021 about the pornography de Villiers had shown him and the sexual touching. He said de Villiers had explicitly told him not to tell his parents because de Villiers could go to jail if he did.
The child clarified in court that de Villiers manipulated him during the repeated assaults.
During her closing statements, Crown prosecutor Amber Pickrell focused heavily on a voicemail de Villiers left for the child's father in June 2021, after the child's family had stopped returning his calls and blocked him on social media.
Pickrell read a copy of the voicemail transcript in court, where de Villiers said he would not have further contact with the victim's family and should have come forward with what he did.
"All I can say is that I will not have contact with you again ... I am extremely sorry that what happened did happen, and [I] know [I] should have come to you earlier to tell you what happened," said de Villiers.
"It's just [one] thing lead to another, and [what] I did was wrong. I take responsibility for what I have done wrong."
De Villiers denied the allegations against him and claimed he had left the voicemail to apologize for overstepping his role as a friend by playing a quasi-parental role in the child's life.
He testified that June 2021 was a very stressful time as he worked to manage the COVID pandemic in BC's Interior.
Justice Leonard rejected de Villiers' explanations and ruled the child's testimony was reliable and credible.
"I do not believe the accused," said Leonard in her ruling. "I find that the text of the voicemail is clear, that the accused is apologizing for something specific that had occurred, and that the accused knew what he was apologizing for.
"I accept that the accused was either attempting to mislead the police ... or he had not yet settled on a story that would explain the voicemail."
Additionally, Leonard said nothing in the RCMP officer's question about whether or not de Villiers licked the child's penis "could have caused confusion."
She determined de Villiers sexually assaulted the child five to eight times and convicted him of sexual interference and sexual assault. But due to the "Kienapple principle," which states a person cannot be convicted of two offences due to the same act, the sexual assault charge stayed.
De Villiers' sentencing hearing will be scheduled later.
He's also facing separate child sex charges from allegations between January 2017 and December 2019 in Alberta. He's scheduled to meet for trial on those charges in August.
Interior Health issued a short statement regarding the guilty verdict against Albert 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 fulfill the duties of the position," reads the statement.
"Due to privacy laws and the fact that the matter involving Dr. de Villiers continues to be before the courts, we cannot provide further comment."
IH also said that De Villiers received $361,000 in pay last fiscal year and remained employed by Interior Health throughout the court proceedings.
"As of today, Dr. de Villiers is no longer an employee of Interior Health."