Allegations of sexual misconduct surface against Surrey dance coach and church youth leader

·4 min read
The PraiseTEAM dance studio is located in the Guildford area of Surrey, B.C., and is affiliated with the Our Lady of Good Counsel parish.  (Google Street View - image credit)
The PraiseTEAM dance studio is located in the Guildford area of Surrey, B.C., and is affiliated with the Our Lady of Good Counsel parish. (Google Street View - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains descriptions of sexual harassment allegations that might be upsetting.

Allegations have surfaced this past week about disturbing, sexual text messages from a dance coach and church youth leader in Surrey, B.C., sent to children as young as 12.

CBC News isn't naming the coach.

He appears to have been a staff member at PraiseTEAM dance studio. He was also a leader involved with Youth for Christ based out of Our Lady of Good Grace in the Guildford area.

The coach has been involved with several other dance companies, including Artistic Edge Dance Company, TwoFourSeven Company and Illustrative Society.

CBC News has uncovered seven of the allegations posted on social media. The post that triggered similar allegations against the accused was published Monday.

'Ever watched porn?'

"I was 12. He was 20," the post begins.

It goes on to allege that a coach and student at PraiseTEAM dance studio in Surrey began texting him in 2018. What appear to be screenshots of the texts are included in the post.

"Do u jack off?

"Ever watched porn?"

"Would u ever flash ur ass or pubes or d as a joke?"

"No one reads ur phone/messages anyways right?"

The screenshots then go on to show the sender offering money in exchange for a photo of the alleged victim's buttocks.

No charges laid

Other allegations posted on social media, which also appear to include screenshots of messages with the accused, show an eerily similar pattern of interaction.

CBC News has not verified the messages. Two of the people who posted allegations spoke with CBC News about their interactions with the coach and youth leader, one of them dating back nine years when they were both 14.

Surrey RCMP say they're aware of the allegations and are investigating. Cpl. Elenore Sturko says a few people with first-hand knowledge have come forward, but no charges have been laid.

CBC News reached out to the dance coach and youth leader. His lawyer responded to say he refused to comment.

Dance studio, archdiocese respond

On Tuesday, The PraiseTEAM studio posted a statement in response to the allegations.

"Thank you to everybody involved in helping create awareness around an issue that involved an inappropriate exchange of dialogue between a staff member and a student," the studio said.

"We are shocked and heartbroken to hear about this incident. We have reached out to the victim and are offering our full support to him."

In response to requests for comment, the Archdiocese of Vancouver sent a written statement that says it is "saddened to hear the recent reports of allegations of inappropriate communications and behaviour by a youth volunteer with Youth for Christ and has deep regret for the harm the victims experienced."

"We are grateful someone has gone public, and that this incident has been reported to the police and encourage anyone else who has suffered abuse to also report it to the RCMP."

The archdiocese goes on to say it has no record of the youth volunteer ever being employed or volunteering directly with the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

'It's devastating'

Sharon Kawano, a Surrey resident and mother of two, says she first found out about the allegations when her daughter sent her a text message in the middle of the night early last week.

"It actually made me sick to the stomach when I actually read all the exchanges between this teacher and the students," Kawano said.

"It scared me as a parent. It's devastating and it's also terrifying."

Her daughter, now in her mid-20s, had trained at PraiseTEAM years ago before the teacher had worked there but she was still in touch with many who were part of that community.

Kawano says her daughter found at least 16 accusations against the coach on social media.

Tight community

She says the Filipino community in the Guildford area of Surrey is "very tight" and a lot of people have been talking about the allegations.

So far, Kawano says, most of the discussion has stayed within the Filipino community. She thinks those who came forward on social media may be hesitant to speak to police because they don't want to "rat" on one of their own or bring shame to their families.

But Kawano hopes more of them do.

"It's so important for them to speak out because you don't know if this person is still actively doing this," she said.

"It really makes you wonder how many minors were affected by this particular teacher."

If you are the victim of sexual violence, please reach out for help to HealthLinkBC by calling 811, or through the Crime Victim Assistance Program at 1-866-660-3888 or VictimLink BC at 1-800-563-0808 or text 604-836-6381.

Do you have more to add to this story? Contact CBC reporter Maryse Zeidler at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.