Kelowna music teacher denies inappropriate touching at sexual assault trial
A Kelowna, B.C., music teacher told a Provincial Court judge he only adjusted a young student's posture while sitting together on a piano bench at his home, and denied ever touching the child in an inappropriate way.
Neil Nein-Nein Wong, 55, made the statements under questioning as he sat in the witness box on Friday morning, on the second day of his trial on charges of sexual assault and sexual interference.
Wong has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
On Thursday the alleged victim, a child Wong taught weekly piano lessons to for a period of about eight months in 2021, told the court Wong inappropriately touched them multiple times during the private lessons.
CBC News is not publishing the gender or age of the child to protect their identity.
Wong denied the allegations under questioning from Crown and defence lawyers while on the witness stand.
Wong told the court in April 2022 he had a customer base of 25 piano students that quickly dropped to only two after the RCMP announced criminal charges against him.
He told the court he had a total of 27 lessons with the child that ended abruptly when the student's father texted him in January 2022, saying the child no longer wanted to continue learning piano.
Student initiated hugs, court told
Wong read out the father's final text to him in court which stated in part, "We appreciate your time and effort over the past few months and wish you all the best."
Wong said he responded to the father that he was shocked as the child had progressed so well with their playing.
In cross examination, Crown lawyer Murray Kaay suggested Wong inappropriately touched the child when they hugged during or after their lessons.
"[They] initiated a hug and I responded in kind as most adults would do by hugging the child back," Wong said, denying the contact was sexual.
"Again, in my mind that would not be inappropriate."
Wong testified he spoke to the child's father after the student hugged him during their first piano lesson because he was uncomfortable with it.
Wong said the father reassured him the hugging was ok.
"This is how they were as a family. This is how they greeted each other," Wong said. "I accepted that as fairly normal behaviour in the family."
The student initiated hugs with him about a dozen times over the eight months of lessons, according to Wong.
Kaay asked Wong about his prior experience as a teacher in public education and the concept of educators respecting students' physical boundaries.
"Generally speaking, teachers endeavour to avoid physical contact with their students, correct?" Kaay asked.
"For fear of allegations such as this," Wong replied.
Previous charge of voyeurism
What hasn't come up in this trial is Wong's departure from public education.
When he worked as a music teacher at a Kelowna high school, Wong was charged with voyeurism of a student and sentenced to an 18-month conditional discharge.
Wong was suspended by School District 23 in 2013 and resigned from his position in 2015, according to a teacher's regulation branch document.
In 2016 Wong agreed to the cancelation of his teaching certificate, according to the decision.
The trial will continue next week with the Crown expected to call the child's father to the witness stand.