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Former West Van private school counsellor sent to jail for child pornography

Luke Lawson, who taught at Mulgrave School for 20 years, downloaded photos of girls from nudist websites.
A former West Vancouver private school counsellor has been sent to jail for possessing child pornography. | North Shore News files

A former West Vancouver school counsellor who used his school computer to view and print off photos of naked girls, then arranged the photos in a collage on his fridge, has been handed a four-month jail sentence.

Luke Lawson, 54, a former West Vancouver resident who taught at Mulgrave private school for almost two decades before his arrest on Sept. 24, 2020, was handed the jail term in North Vancouver provincial court Tuesday (June 7).

Lawson entered a guilty plea in November to a charge of possession of child pornography.

Earlier in the sentencing hearing, Crown prosecutor Victoria Hanna told the judge how police searched Lawson’s apartment under warrant in September 2020 after emails sent between his personal email account and his work email account at Mulgrave School prompted an investigation.

In Lawson’s apartment, police found a stack of over 100 printed images of naked girls between the ages of eight and 13 on his kitchen table, along with another 17 images of naked pre-pubescent and pubescent girls on his fridge. Similar images were found on Lawson’s cellphone and a work computer police searched at Mulgrave School, said Hanna.

Web pages open on that computer led to sites on “nudism and naturism,” the prosecutor said.

Lawson had used that computer to view images saved on his yahoo email account, then enlarged the photos and cropped out backgrounds to focus exclusively on the girls’ naked bodies, before using a school printer to print them off, said Hanna.

While Lawson didn’t know any of the girls in the pictures, Hanna told the judge it was disturbing to think he would go off to his teaching job each morning having just viewed the sexualized images of girls on his fridge.

In handing down her sentence this week, Judge Patricia Janzen told Lawson that as someone who had worked for almost 20 years in a position of trust as a teacher, coach and counsellor of children, he knew his actions were wrong. “It was your duty as a professional who worked with children to protect them from every kind of harm, including psychological and emotional harm,” she said.

Janzen said denunciation of offences against children is especially important at a time when “the easy ability to circulate this material over the Internet” has encouraged the growth of child pornography, which she described as “a profoundly destructive, pernicious and increasingly prevalent form of child abuse.”

“Once these images are introduced to the Internet, there is no ability to control where they appear, what use is made of them, how often they are reset and viewed,” she said. “Those who possess view, chat about and exchange child pornography provide the encouragement and the audience for those who would abuse children in order to produce that content.”

Janzen noted in Lawson’s case, he downloaded photos from nudist sites, rather than pornography sites, and none of the photos depicted children involved in sexual activity.

“That does not mean, however, that the use to which you put their photos was not a violation and victimization of these children,” she told Lawson. “ ... The harm is different, but is still harm, and it was inflicted on them directly by you.”

Janzen agreed with Lawson’s defence lawyer Mark Slay, however, that his offences were “at the least serious end of the spectrum” because the photos he possessed were “far less degrading or exploitive than most of the material created online.”

She also noted Lawson had suffered significant “collateral consequences,” including the end of his career, his marriage and his teenage daughter’s refusal to see him. The judge noted Lawson – who moved to PEI after his offences came to light – has also attempted suicide.

Janzen ordered Lawson on probation for 18 months, following his jail term, with conditions to avoid parks, playgrounds and school grounds where children 16 and under are likely to be. He is also banned from volunteering or seeking work that involves working with children for the term of his probation. Lawson must also not have a social media presence or participate in online chat rooms of any kind unless directly related to his employment, and must not attempt to communicate electronically with anyone under 16, said Janzen. He must also take counselling and will be placed on the sexual offender registry for 10 years.

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