Editor’s note: This story contains details that some readers may find disturbing.
Sentencing has finally been handed down for former teacher Johnny Meeko in Iqaluit court.
Judge Paul Bychok remarked that “this case has had a long passage through the justice system” after several mistrials and the overturning of verdicts in appeals. He then sentenced the 69-year-old Meeko to 22.2 years in a federal prison for sexually assaulting students in Sanikiluaq.
This sentence takes into account the time Meeko has already spent in custody awaiting justice to be served, which would make his overall sentence the equivalent of 29 years.
Deemed a “serial child predator” by the court, Meeko was convicted of two counts of sexual assault, 10 counts of sexual touching, invitation to sexual touching, and assault of 12 victims from 1984-2003 when he was working as a primary school teacher in Sanikiluaq. He was also a sergeant for the Young Ranger Program.
The crimes included over-clothing touching and squeezing of several victims’ breasts and kissing students on the lips as a punishment for being the last to line up and public “birthday spankings.” He also engaged in directly touching victims’ vaginas and penetrating them digitally.
One of the victims said these incidents have left her with ongoing depression… either “quite a few times” or “most of the time.”
It’s also known that he sodomized two other students.
Bychok said he had to weigh “the lifelong emotional pain and trauma Mr. Meeko inflicted on his victims” against the principles of proportionality — the punishment fitting the crimes — and totality, which prevents courts from imposing unduly long or harsh sentences.
“Mr. Meeko bears an extremely high moral culpability for these grievous and revolting breaches of authority and trust,” the judge stated. “The sentences I impose must reflect that fact in a meaningful way.”
He worked as a teacher at Nuiyak School in Sanikiluaq for 38 years.
“The evidence proved that he was a successful and high functioning member of the Sanikiluaq community for over 40 years. He held long standing positions of leadership and trust in the local school, the Anglican Church, and the Canadian Armed Forces. A lifelong hunter and possessed with Inuit cultural and traditional knowledge, Mr. Meeko became one of his community’s respected elders. Knowledge of Mr. Meeko’s betrayal of that trust staggered the community,” reads Bychok’s summation.
He also commented on Meeko’s relaxed nature and frequent smiling during the trial despite harrowing testimonies by his victims.
“Mr. Meeko’s apparent attitude throughout the trial is utterly astonishing. He only adopted a serious demeanour and tone when he testified, denying all the sexual allegations made against him. In a statement to the court this morning, Mr. Meeko said, among other things, that he had a vision of being in the presence of God along with his accusers. He said God made his accusers vanish because their allegations against him were untrue,” the judge noted.
He added, “The sexual abuse of children is also a profound violation of the principles of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (societal values). Mr. Meeko’s heinous crimes for which I am sentencing him spanned close to two decades, left his victims to deal with lifelong anguish and trauma, caused intergenerational trauma, and cut to the very quick our society’s basic respect for children.”
He also pointed out that neither Meeko’s advanced age nor his status as Inuk does not mitigate his offences. The offender did not experience “a very difficult childhood marred by exposure to substance abuse, violence, neglect and dislocation.” Neither has he expressed any form or remorse or willingness to engage in sex offender treatment.
Victims speak out
His victims, now adults, read impact statements to the court.
One said she “transferred this anger against [her] mother for making her go to school even though [I] never told her what was happening.”
She also resorted to taking pills to try to “numb the anger towards Johnny Meeko.” Her experiences drove her to attempt suicide “a number of times” in 2005 and 2006.
Another victim stated: “It’s affected me so much I can’t think straight anymore. I am barely alive anymore. I have no more friends anymore because I don’t want them to see me upset… I can’t keep up things anymore like I used to. I get upset right away when something happens to me or my [children]. I always want to be in a dark place when I think about what happened… I get depressed right away. I get sick if I think what had happened. I want to be well for my [children].”
Several of the victims mentioned the ongoing impact from the abuse and inability to function in society, delving into their subsequent problems with depression, substance abuse and an overall to cope with their emotions or memories to the point where it affects their employment or ability to parent their children.
Many factors, precedents, and changing social mores went into Judge Bychok’s ultimate decision, explained at length in the released court document. However, Bychok ultimately concluded that “the sentence I impose on Mr. Meeko must express meaningfully and unambiguously our community’s collective revulsion towards the sexual abuse by adult predators against children…[He] joins the list of sexual predators who have preyed upon and victimized isolated and highly vulnerable children in Nunavut.”