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‘Vindication’ for Newfoundland principal found not guilty of historic sexual offences in Alberta

George Sheppard of St. Bernard’s-Jacques Fontaine was found not guilty of four historic sexual offences by a jury in Peace River, Alta., on June 14. A fifth charge was stayed by Justice Eldon Simpson on June 12.
George Sheppard of St. Bernard’s-Jacques Fontaine was found not guilty of four historic sexual offences by a jury in Peace River, Alta., on June 14. A fifth charge was stayed by Justice Eldon Simpson on June 12. - Contributed

George Sheppard was placed on leave from Burin Peninsula school following charges in 2017

ST. BERNARD'S-JACQUES FONTAINE, N.L. —

George Sheppard says he’s looking forward to finding a “new normal" after his trial on sexual offences this month in Alberta.

Sheppard was facing charges that were alleged to have occurred in the mid-1990s. 

“We were very confident in the case that we presented,” he told The Southern Gazette on Wednesday, June 19.

Sheppard, 53, was charged with two counts of sexual exploitation of a young person, invitation to sexual touching, sexual interference and sexual assault.

According to the RCMP, the offences were alleged to have occurred between 1994 and 1996, when he was a teacher with the Fort Vermilion School Division in Fort Vermilion, Alta. 

During the five-day Court of Queen’s Bench trial in Peace River, Alta., Justice Eldon Simpson issued a stay of proceedings for one of the sexual exploitation charges on June 12. 

After deliberating for roughly two hours on June 14, a jury found Sheppard not guilty on the other four charges against him.

Sheppard, who was represented by Alberta lawyer Brian Vail, took the stand in his own defence during the trial. 

“Right off the bat it’s a huge relief,” he said of hearing the jury’s verdict. “It’s a vindication of what you’ve known and what you’ve held true for 20 months but where we had to … keep your comments to yourself leading up to it.” 

Sheppard was charged by the RCMP on Oct. 27, 2017. 

He was the principal at Fortune Bay Academy in St. Bernard’s-Jacques Fontaine at the time and was placed on leave by the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) following revelation of the charges. 

Sheppard told The Southern Gazette the NLESD was professional in the protocol that was followed and that he was understanding.

He said he is hoping to resume his position at the St. Bernard’s-Jacques Fontaine school when it re-opens next fall but acknowledged that will be up to the NLESD and the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association (NLTA).

“I look forward to the possibility of returning to work whenever the district and the NLTA have a chance to fulfill the commitments that they have to process,” he said. 

In an emailed response to a request for comment, the NLESD indicated staff are currently reviewing documentation recently received from the court in Alberta regarding Sheppard's trial.  

"As such, it would be premature for us to comment at this time," the email read.

The Southern Gazette also reached out to Crown prosecutor David Sherwin for comment but he was unavailable.

paul.herridge@southerngazette.ca


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