Accused Kelowna piano teacher claims he touched child to adjust posture

Assault or fixing posture?

A Kelowna piano teacher accused of molesting a child during multiple lessons claims he only touched the child to adjust their posture and to reciprocate hugs that the child had initiated.

Neil Wong, 55, was charged with sexual assault and sexual interference last spring, over allegations he sexually touched a young student multiple times over an eight-month period in 2021.

The complainant was elementary-school aged when the alleged incidents occurred. Castanet is referring to the child as CV, as any information that could identify the child is protected by a publication ban.

Following CV's testimony Thursday, Wong took the stand in his own defence Friday and denied that he ever touched CV inappropriately or touched CV underneath any clothing.

“Did you ever touch [CV] in an inappropriate way for how you should touch a child?” defence counsel Grant Gray asked Wong at the end of his direct examination.

“The short answer is no,” Wong replied.

Crown prosecutor Murray Kaay then began cross examination, asking: “What's the long answer?”

“The long answer is that there was physical touch, but one was for musical teaching purposes, as I demonstrated before, to correct [CV's] posture, and the second time ... was when [CV] initiated a hug and I would respond in kind as most adults would do by hugging the child back.”

During their testimony Thursday, CV said Wong felt underneath their shirt, touching their back, stomach and nipples. CV said Wong did this on multiple occasions during their piano lessons.

Wong said in his own testimony that CV was a “pleasant, confident and outgoing” child who was “very touchy-feely.” He testified CV hugged him during their first lesson in April 2021, which surprised him. Wong said he spoke with CV's father about the hug after the lesson.

“His response, and I'm paraphrasing, but something to the effect of 'That's totally OK, we're a hug-y family and we just kind of raised our kids to be like that,'” Wong testified.

He said CV initiated many other hugs during their subsequent lessons, which he felt fine about after speaking with CV's father. Wong said he never initiated any of the hugs himself.

Wong also described how he would place his index finger in the small of a student's back and in the front divot of their shoulder blades to correct their posture.

During Gray's cross examination of CV Friday morning, he asked CV to describe how Wong would try to fix CV's posture during their lessons.

“I remember he would show me how to sit and I would do it ... he would show me,” CV said.

“How would he correct [your posture]?” Gray asked.

“I can't remember,” CV said.

CV's piano lessons with Wong began in April 2021 and carried through until December of that year. CV's mother previously testified CV told her about Wong's inappropriate touching in January 2022.

During his testimony Friday, Wong read the last text message exchange he had with CV's father, which occurred on Jan. 4, 2022.

“Hey Neil, [CV] decided [they] no longer want to continue piano lessons. We appreciate your time and effort over the past few months and wish you all the best.”

“I am shocked. [CV] is doing so well. What happened?”

Wong never received a response.

During cross examination, Kaay asked Wong about his previous professional teaching experience, and whether teachers should generally avoid physical contact with students. Wong agreed, “for fear of allegations such as this."

“I'm also going to suggest it's also respectful of other person's boundaries and how they feel about things, would you agree with that?” Kaay added.

“For the most part yes,” Wong eventually replied, after a nine-second pause.

Wong was a music teacher at Kelowna Secondary School until he was suspended in 2013, when he was criminally charged with voyeurism, in a matter unrelated to the charges he is currently facing. In 2014, he was handed an 18-month conditional discharge.

A conditional discharge means an accused person avoids a permanent criminal conviction and record if they abide by their probation conditions.

The details of the voyeurism case are covered by a publication ban to protect the identity of the female victim, who was 15 at the time.

The B.C. Commissioner of Teacher Regulation published an unnamed consent resolution summary that matches the timeframe and case details related to Wong’s voyeurism charge.

That report says the teacher used a school-issued laptop on two occasions to access sexually explicit material during school hours while he was working. He had also previously been issued a “letter of direction” after hugging female students in a way that made them uncomfortable.

He was suspended from the school district in 2013 and formally resigned in 2015.

Following Wong's testimony Friday, Kaay told Judge Andrew Tam he may apply to have CV's father testify, with regards to Wong's testimony about the conversation he allegedly had with CV's father about their family being "hug-y."

The case, which was initially scheduled to wrap up Friday, was put over to March 26, when Kaay is expected to know if further evidence is required. Wong remains out of custody on bail.

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