Former West Van school counsellor gets one-year jail for child sexual exploitation images

One year for child porn

Former high school counsellor Joseph Scott William McLeod will spend a year behind bars for possessing child sexual exploitation images.

The 41-year-old, known as “Joey McLeod” in his professional capacity, was sentenced in North Vancouver Provincial Court on Friday afternoon.

An investigation by RCMP’s integrated child exploitation unit got underway after images containing child nudity were sent over Snapchat in June 2020. The images were flagged by the app, and police were notified of his IP address.

In January 2021, McLeod was suspended from his job as a Grade 8 counsellor at West Vancouver Secondary, after North Vancouver RCMP executed a search warrant at his home and arrested him. McLeod’s phone and laptop were seized, which contained dozens of pictures and drawn cartoons, as well as a five-minute video, showing young boys ranging in age from six months to 13 years old, nude or being sexually abused.

McLeod was charged with possession of child pornography in July 2021. Then, at a procedural hearing on Aug. 3, 2023, he entered a guilty plea.

In her decision on Friday, Judge Lyndsay Smith ruled that McLeod will spend a year in jail followed by two years’ probation for his crime of possessing “horrific” material.

At a sentencing hearing in September, defence lawyer Claire Hatcher argued her client should serve a conditional sentence, served at home, for up to two years, followed by a year of probation.

Her client didn’t produce or commercialize the content, Hatcher said, and the Snapchat images would have disappeared unless screenshots were taken. The defence also highlighted the mitigating value of McLeod’s guilty plea, adding that the loss of his teaching career and public shaming in the media were sufficient to address the sentencing objectives.

But the judge rejected that a conditional order would be a fit sentence.

'McLeod’s moral culpability is high,' judge says

Smith noted other courts have determined that incarceration is necessary in all cases of child pornography except in exceptional cases, to emphasize denunciation and deterrence.

“I do not consider the present case to be exceptional,” Smith said.

In terms of moral culpability, similar cases had involved offenders who had been victims of sexual abuse or other traumatic events themselves.

“Mr. McLeod’s moral culpability is high,” Smith said. “He had a relatively happy childhood. He has not suffered poverty or addiction – rather, he’s an educated person with a decent background, trained in relation to children and their well-being.”

In contrast to his relatively stable upbringing, the grave nature of the materials he possessed was an aggravating factor in McLeod’s sentencing.

A significant mitigating factor in McLeod’s sentencing was his guilty plea, the judge said.

If it had gone to trial, a violated child could have been called as a witness. “The video likely would have been played, perpetuating harm to that child,” Smith said. “Further, the guilty plea avoided the risk that the investigators would’ve had to have been subjected to further exposure to the horrific material, and support staff and counsel and others involved in the criminal justice process.”

Smith noted that similar sentences have carried jail terms ranging from four months to two years. Previously, Crown counsel recommended McLeod spend six months to a year in prison.

In addition to his one-year jail and two years’ probation, McLeod must also abide by a number of conditions, which include restrictions on employment, technology and internet use. McLeod, who has been living in Ontario with his partner, must not go to any places where persons under the age of 18 can reasonably be expected to be present, except in specific circumstances known to his probation officer.

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