Friday, September 6, 1996

Rattan Mall and John Colebourn
Staff Reporters

Principal facing porn charges

(Karen) Prade
(Karen) Prade
(Shirley) Kusher
(Shirley) Kusher
Police seized material in a raid on William Bennest's Vancouver home. Staff photo by Gerry Kahrmann
Staff photo by Gerry Kahrmann
Police seized material in a raid on William Bennest's Vancouver home.

Angry and confused parents descended on Clinton elementary school last night after principal William Bennest was charged with child pornography offences.

"The kids, they are confused liked all the rest of us," parent Karen Prade, co-chairman of the parent advisory council, said after an hour-long session with trauma counsellors in the school library. About 75 parents attended.

"We all feel we've been kicked in the teeth," Prade said.

She said police are waiting to see if any kids come forward, but there is no indication students were involved in pornography.

Bennest, 52, who is single, appears in Vancouver provincial court again today. He faces one charge of making child pornography and another of possessing child pornography.

He was arrested Wednesday night when police raided his home in the 900-block of West 22nd Avenue and Clinton elementary in Burnaby, where he has been principal for five years.

Bennest was in protective custody last night after making a brief court appearance.

"He's disturbed and unhappy," said defence lawyer Peter Leask.

Vancouver police Insp. Ken Doern said audio and video tapes and photographs were seized at Bennest's house.

"We don't know the scope of this investigation," said Doern, when asked if anyone beside Bennest was being investigated.

"We have yet to determine the full scope or how far-reaching this could be.

"We are still in the early stages of this investigation and there could be other charges laid."

He said the school raid took place just after midnight "so as not to traumatize the staff and students."

The search warrants were executed by the Vancouver police vice unit, Burnaby RCMP and the Co-ordinated Law Enforcement Unit, which received a tip.

Bennest's neighbors were in shock. His home looked deserted, with the morning paper rolled up untouched on the porch.

"I'm in total shock," said retired children's camp administrator Shirley Kushner, who lives two doors away.

"He's one of the nicest neighbors on the street, one of the friendliest. And I just hope it's not true."

She said it appeared Bennest was living with some people whom she didn't know.

Said a neighbor who didn't want his name used: "I'm surprised. That's all I can say.

"I've never seen any kids over there."

Premier Glen Clark called the situation "horrible, if it's correct, just horrible."

The government requires criminal checks on all government employees who work with children, but the system only catches those with criminal records.

"What do you do with someone who's not done it before or been convicted?" he asked. "How do you find them?"

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Created: September 7, 1996
Last modified: November 26, 2000
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