Former church youth leader charged with sexual assault

Jan Vanderzwaag speaks with CBC News in January during an unrelated interview. He has pleaded not guilty and elected trial by judge and jury. (CBC - image credit)
Jan Vanderzwaag speaks with CBC News in January during an unrelated interview. He has pleaded not guilty and elected trial by judge and jury. (CBC - image credit)

A former youth leader with a P.E.I. church is facing historical sexual assault charges involving three boys.

Jan Vanderzwaag, 43, was officially charged in May. The case was in Supreme Court in Charlottetown on Tuesday. Vanderzwaag did not appear. He has pleaded not guilty to two charges of sexual assault and one of sexual interference.

CBC News spoke with two of the boys, who are brothers. They are now adults and their names are protected by a publication ban. They say they were molested by Vanderzwaag in 2001. They say they met him through the Christian Reform Church when he was a leader of a group there.

One of them says he was 14 years old when he was assaulted by Vanderzwaag after they were invited to a movie night and sleepover.

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

"I proceeded to watch him sexually abuse my little brother and it got to a point where I just couldn't take it anymore and I coughed to get his attention to get him to come back to me and he started to abuse me again."

He said the experience has haunted his family and after all these years it feels good to come forward.

After he made the complaint with RCMP, it was two years before charges were laid. He said it can be harder for men to be believed, but he's determined to be heard.

He said he plans to seek damages through a civil case, as well.

"Unless this abuse stops, unless there is acknowledgement that this happened to me, my brothers, to my family. I'm not going to stop until I see justice."

The church is not named in the case, but said in an email:

"The alleged abuse did not take place at our church, or during a church activity. The accused attended our church but was not in a leadership position. The accused has not attended our church for over 15 years. The RCMP has been investigating this matter already for some time and the church has and continues to fully co-operate. Our church was never under investigation."

Vanderzwaag could not be reached for comment. He has elected trial by judge and jury.

Lawyers will be back in court in January, after which a trial date is expected to be set.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.