(Canada)The Gazette, October 31, 2000

Principal fooled everyone-- How Wadsworth hid his pedophilia

Amanda Green was being a naughty 7-year-old and knew it on that day 13 years ago when she played with the water and climbed on the toilets in the girls' bathroom at Greendale elementary school in Pierrefonds.

She and her girlfriend were caught by their teacher, and Amanda knew she was in for it when she was sent to the principal's office.

David Wadsworth, principal of the school, immediately said he would see the girls individually. When it was Amanda's turn, the Grade 2 student nervously entered Wadsworth's office.

What she had done was wrong, Wadsworth told her, and now he was going to let her pick one of two choices for a punishment: either he would tell her parents and teachers what she had done and take away certain privileges, such as recess and gym; or she could take off her pants and panties and let him spank her as he would his own child, and no one need ever know what had happened.

"Can't I leave my underwear on?" asked Amanda. No, she vividly remembers Wadsworth telling her, embarrassment is part of the punishment.

Amanda, a feisty child, knew she shouldn't have to remove her clothes. She didn't like either punishment, she told him, defiantly. Perhaps taken aback by someone willing to stand up to him, Wadsworth told her to leave his office and never again brought up the incident.

Amanda's friend chose the spanking.

Wadsworth has pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography - pictures and videos of children being spanked - as well as to sexual assault and gross indecency against eight former students at a Pincourt elementary school. Amanda Green, now a Concordia University student, finds herself haunted by how many other children might have chosen to be spanked on a bare bottom by a man everyone believed was a sweetheart principal and a terrific teacher.

Having already been given a 90-day conditional sentence for the pornography charges, Wadsworth, 45, will be sentenced in Quebec Court in Valleyfield today on five counts of sexual assault, two counts of indecent assault and one count of gross indecency against former students - seven males and one female. He pleaded guilty to one count per victim. Another seven charges against Wadsworth were stayed, meaning they could still be tried if necessary. The sexual-assault charges carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Spanking seemed to be an obsession with Wadsworth - his bail was revoked when he mail-ordered another video of children being spanked.

Wadsworth had had a long and illustrious career at the Lakeshore School Board, and then the Lester B. Pearson School Board, before his shocking arrest last December. He had served as teacher, vice-principal and principal at numerous schools, including the elementary school in Pincourt, which cannot be named because of a publication ban on victims' names. Wadsworth worked at three other schools between 1986 and 1997 - Greendale and Thorndale schools in Pierrefonds and Valois Park in Pointe Claire.

He ended up at John Rennie High School in Pointe Claire, where he made the mistake that tripped him up: he printed out from the Internet a picture of a child being spanked, and either forgot to retrieve it from the printer or just didn't get there fast enough. When he heard someone had found it, he feigned disapproval. We've got a security problem at the school, he was quick to say.

Perhaps he was too quick to say it. Bells went off for some administrators. His computer had registered a lot of Internet usage, and administrators had been having some concerns about his performance. Could it be him?

Wadsworth couldn't be confronted because the school board didn't have proof. Instead, a "proxy program" was secretly installed on his computer, enabling somebody else to look at what he was surfing on the Internet. It turned out that Wadsworth was spending 30 to 40 hours a week viewing pornography - early in the morning, late at night and on weekends. Not to mention during school hours.

And pretty much all of it featured children being spanked.

Wadsworth was at least shrewd enough to store his pornography on an off-site hard drive so it couldn't be found on his office computer. It had to be proven that Wadsworth was in his office when the computer there was being used to view the spanking material.

After monitoring him for a week, school-board officials went to the police.

There was a lot of disbelief at the time, a Pearson board employee recalled. Many people in the system were shocked because they had worked very closely with him, the employee said.

An immensely popular principal, Wadsworth had the respect of the parents and his peers in the communities where he served. He was warm and likeable, and people rallied to his defence when he was accused, in 1988, of spanking a boy and asking the 9-year-old to spank him.

It seems that not a single parent or teacher at Greendale elementary school believed the allegations that brought Wadsworth to court. And when the charge was thrown out at his preliminary hearing, everyone was able to put it out of their minds, carry on and entrust their children to Wadsworth.

That's how sure they were.

"After he was cleared, no one gave it a second thought," said Elaine Lobaton, who had children at Greendale, was a commissioner for the Lakeshore board and now teaches preschool at Greendale. "They put their trust in him."

Wadsworth's departure from Thorndale is still somewhat of a mystery.

School-board officials have always maintained that Wadsworth finally left after prolonged absences because of a back problem. Gregor Campbell, who was the regional director at the time, said he "presumed" that the back problem was the reason for Wadsworth's departure. But he admits that he does not recall ever getting a medical certificate from Wadsworth.

On April 9, 1997, Leo La France, then director of elementary-education services for Lakeshore, sent a letter to Thorndale parents announcing the appointment of Susan Winn as interim principal. "David Wadsworth has been experiencing some health problems over recent months and will be absent for the remainder of the school year," the letter read.

Curiously, a letter from Winn dated just a few weeks later, April 30, 1997, says that Wadsworth had already accepted a new position as vice-principal at John Rennie High School. Campbell said it was decided that Wadsworth should go to a high school so he could be part of a team of administrators, in case his back problem persisted.

"What bothers me is that no one did anything," said Carmelina Lazzarino, a Thorndale parent who has followed Wadsworth's career. "The board had the authority to investigate it, but they didn't."

But all the school board ever had on Wadsworth was a case that was dropped. "Nothing was proved," said Marcus Tabachnick, chairman of the Pearson board and former chairman of the Lakeshore board. (He was not chairman when Wadsworth was charged at Greendale.) "People in that position are susceptible to charges being brought for a variety of reasons. Everything is investigated thoroughly, and we do as much as we can. We've proven we won't tolerate behaviours that are unacceptable."

Tabachnick said that once the police and crown prosecutor came to the conclusion that there was nothing there, the board's obligation was to its employee. "You can't operate by trailing the employees," he said. "With close to 4,000 employees, can you vouch for everyone?"

He believes the board dealt with a bad situation appropriately.

"The worst nightmare that you can have as a public-school system is that anything could be harming your children," Tabachnick said.

Some parents will always wonder if there was more that could have been done. That is, perhaps, why the Quebec Federation of Parent Committees said last April that Quebec should follow Ontario's lead and conduct mandatory criminal checks on all school employees to ferret out anyone convicted of sexual offences. (Wadsworth had no criminal record before the John Rennie case.)

The commissioned report that prompted Ontario to make the controversial move to screen all school staff said the problem of sexual misconduct was compounded by the practice known in some education circles as "passing the trash," where some school boards move a suspect teacher from school to school, avoiding a confrontation where proof positive might be lacking but also giving the suspected person the opportunity to prey on other students.

Was that the case with Wadsworth?

Stewart McLaughlin, a Pearson board parent commissioner, gives credit to the board for acting quickly in the Wadsworth case. The board didn't neglect its responsibility, he said, and referred the calls that came from Pincourt students to police.

Board officials have been very reluctant to discuss the Wadsworth case. Often, administrators just point out that Wadsworth is no longer employed by the board, refusing to give details about his employment, complaining that his identification as "John Rennie High vice-principal David Wadsworth" has been a sore spot for the school.

Catherine Prokosh, director-general of the board, didn't want to discuss the board's security measures other than to say there is a system of security checks for personnel, partly random and partly systematic. She said new employees have to agree to a security check, and she reiterated the board's stand that another newspaper article on Wadsworth is not needed.

Tabachnick said the board hasn't changed any of its procedures since Wadsworth's arrest. For example, he said that in terms of being alone with a child, the subject of closing doors is discussed with principals, but he noted that principals and students sometimes need to talk in private. However, he said, the decision is up to individual principals. New schools usually have glass panels so that no office is completely closed. This, he explained, is for the protection of everyone.

Michel Frechette, commander of the Montreal Urban Community police sexual-assault unit, has made presentations at schools, and his advice is for adults not to meet alone with a child behind closed doors. "There are adolescents who will get a bad mark and claim sexual aggression," he said.

But he said that Wadsworth's tactics were classic for a pedophile. "They must win the confidence of children. It is even easier if that person is in a position of authority; there is already systematic respect for them," Frechette said. "The pattern is always the same - they are nice with the children and will focus all their efforts with their goal in mind."

Wadsworth preyed on children with learning difficulties or behaviour problems, police said.

There were many spankings, but not in all of the eight cases. In one case, he put girl's panties on a boy and then spanked him. One victim reportedly told the physical-education teacher what was happening, but there was no proof.

As seemed to be the case wherever he worked, Wadsworth's affable nature made it seem impossible that he was up to no good. Often, it was parents who came to his defence. "The kid at Greendale was a problem kid, and no one believed it for a second," said one parent. "I don't think you could find a person who didn't think he was a great guy. He was very popular."

Lazzarino said that like most pedophiles, Wadsworth knew how to make himself liked. He was easy to talk to and he took the kids to McDonald's for lunch, she said.

He was also liked by the teachers, said Jim Wilson, president of the Pearson Teachers Union. "I never heard any complaints about him as an administrator. When he was charged, it was the community that came to his defence because they felt he was wrongly accused."

Amanda Green thinks it is a "travesty" that Wadsworth was in the education system for so long. She came forward with her story because, she said, she had always felt guilty for not telling.

"If I had opened my mouth, I might have been able to prevent something," said Green. Her encounter with Wadsworth is one of her most prominent memories of growing up, she says. She finally told her parents about her experience five years after it happened. She never went to the police, she said, because Wadsworth never touched her.

But she was happy he was arrested. "I was lucky because I knew it was wrong to remove my clothes. But I'm sure a lot of kids chose the spanking. You know there are others out there."

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