A former elder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Lakeview church pleaded guilty Wednesday to sexual exploitation of a teenage girl who was a member of the same congregation.
Wendell Willick, 47, changed his plea and admitted he touched the teenager with his hands and penis over a three-year period between January 1996 and November 1999. He will be sentenced Oct. 5.
The complainant, now 25, was 14 when the offences began and 17 when they ended.
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Her identity is protected by a publication ban.
“Through the temple and his relationship with the complainant’s family, he took a special interest in the complainant, who was experiencing difficulties in her life at the time,” Crown prosecutor Sandeep Bains said in an interview after the hearing at Court of Queen’s Bench.
“The families were friendly and socialized together extensively. He would have met her when she was 13.”
Willick’s lawyer Daryl Labach said his client voluntarily gave up his role as an elder in the church several years ago, in part because of the allegations, and left the church entirely in 2004.
The woman went to police with allegations concerning Willick in 2004.
“This whole situation with the complainant had nothing to do with his being an elder at the church,” Labach said. “He said the church had absolutely nothing to do with this. The fault’s all his.
“He was counselling her as a friend of the family. They were all good friends because they all happened to go to the same church. That’s just where they met. He was just trying to help her out in the context of being a good family friend because she had so many problems. Things just ended up going to another level, which he says they shouldn’t have.”
Bains said the guilty plea represents closure to a lengthy ordeal for the complainant.
“She has had this hanging over her life for over 10 years. There’s some relief from this burden that has been there for so long,” Bains said.
Willick also resigned this week as CEO of Point 2 Technologies, a Saskatoon-based Internet commerce software company for Realtors and heavy equipment sellers. Willick, his brother and a group of private investors founded the company in 1996 and it has since grown to employ about 100 people here and in Vancouver, said company spokesperson Roger Novjeim.
Willick submitted his resignation last week and the company’s board accepted it at a meeting Tuesday, Novjeim said.
“Mr. Willick and the board wanted to separate his personal matter from the company,” he said.
Willick pleaded guilty after Justice Martin Popescul rejected his application earlier this week to have the charge stayed.
Labach argued Tuesday the complainant violated a court order to give the judge a diary she referred to in her original, written complaint to the police.
Labach was not satisfied the diary the woman handed over was the only one in existence. While no one but the judge was allowed to see the diary, Labach relied on the judge’s finding that the diary he received did not contain any relevant information.
The woman’s complaint had stated, “I kept a diary especially during this time.” The one she handed in began in March 1999, leading Labach to argue there must have been at least one volume written during the earlier months and years of the sexual offences.
Labach had hoped to convince the judge the woman’s refusal to co-operate violated Willick’s Charter rights in a way that could only be remedied by throwing the case out of court.
“We always felt there were other diaries which had not been turned over. If a person’s not going to turn it over, it affects my client’s ability to make full answer and defence,” Labach said.
Popescul said he believed the woman, who testified Tuesday that the diary she produced was the only one referred to in her statement and about which she was questioned at the preliminary hearing.
Willick was allowed to remain free pending sentencing, but was ordered to turn over his passport.
He was originally also charged with sexual assault, but was committed to stand trial only on the sexual exploitation charge following a preliminary hearing in 2005.