‘It never happened’: ex-teacher Meeko testifies in his own defence

Former teacher in Sanikiluaq faces 18 sex-related charges after allegations by former students

Johnny Meeko, centrre, pictured here leaving the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit wearing a cap, is accused of 18 sex-related criminal charges. He testified at his trial on Wednesday. (File photo)

By Meral Jamal

“It never happened,” former teacher Johnny Meeko testified in court Wednesday, where he’s on trial for 18 sex-related criminal charges based on allegations by 11 of his former students.

Four of the charges against Meeko, a former teacher in Sanikiluaq, were laid in 2019. The other 14 are being retried after Meeko won an appeal of his 2017 conviction.

The jury trial began May 23 and has so far heard from the complainants and three other witnesses. The incidents are alleged to have occurred from the 1970s to the early 2000s.

Defence lawyers began their presentation in the Nunavut Court of Justice Wednesday, starting with testimony from Meeko himself.

Under questioning, he repeatedly denied that some of the accusations — allegations of sexual assault, rape, and touching students’ buttocks and breasts for sexual purposes — ever occurred.

At the same time, he acknowledged that others — spanking students on their birthdays, and touching them across their buttocks to get them to sit straight instead of slouching — did take place.

Meeko said spanking students on their birthdays was a tradition brought forth by Qallunaat, or white, teachers at the school.

“It was not for sexual purposes,” he testified.

Meeko, who spoke calmly in front of jurors, testified in Inuktitut with translation.

He said he never tried to discipline students over the course of his 36-year career as a teaching assistant and then as a classroom teacher at Nuiyak School in Sanikiluaq.

“[The students] never fought in the school,” Meeko said, adding he did not make students stay back after school for detention nor did he raise his voice while speaking with students who were misbehaving.

“I was being honest with them, because if you’re screaming at the children they will never listen to you,” he said.

Cross-examination by Crown prosecutor Abel Dion began Wednesday and is expected to continue Thursday. Defence lawyer Ilan Neuman has also indicated he will call a witness to testify.

Following that, the Crown and defence will present their closing statements.

The jury could be sequestered by Friday to begin deliberations.


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