Calgary foster parent charged with sexually abusing boys in his care

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CALGARY - A Calgary man who once received an award for fostering troubled children has been charged with sexually abusing three boys in his care, spawning a Canada-wide probe involving dozens of former foster children.
Garry Prokopishin, 51, has been charged with one count of luring a child via a data device, three counts of obtaining or attempting to obtain sex from a person under 18, and sexual contact with a youth by a person in authority.
Kevin Brookwell, a police spokesman, said Thursday that investigators allege a man was offering the boys money in exchange for sex acts. The charges relate to alleged encounters between January 2006 and April 2008.
Investigators have travelled across the country to try to interview 55 people who have lived in the home over the past 20 years, Brookwell said. Many have been difficult to find, he said.
"We were able to identify and find 13 of those. That means that the investigation is still continuing and we're hoping that other people who lived in that home will come forward," he said. "There's a potential there could be other (alleged) victims."
Officers began their investigation last June after being told of allegations about a man involved in sex acts with boys under 18. The operation of the foster home was suspended indefinitely at that time, and it remains closed to foster children, Brookwell said.
One charge relates to what he called "inappropriate images" taken with a cellphone camera.
Brookwell said the information that led to the charges did not come from the complainants. He would only say an outside agency made them aware of the situation but wouldn't identify that agency.
Many children who lived in the home were there because they'd been in trouble with the law or had substance abuse issues and stayed from two months up to two years, Brookwell said.
"When you're being charged with obtaining sexual acts or favours by a person in authority, it's disturbing," said Brookwell.
"It's very disturbing in the fact that there were 55 young men that have been in this house, even more so in the fact that we may get more (alleged) victims coming forward and more charges coming from this."
Police said Prokopishin had appeared in court on the charges, but was expected to be released on bail.
Yvonne Fritz, Alberta's minister of children's services, said she was saddened when she heard of the charges and promised an investigation of the case.
"It's a terrible situation," she said. "I've ordered an immediate review by our officials and if change is required, then change will happen quickly."
The minister, who was recently handed the portfolio in a cabinet shuffle, defended security procedures in the foster parent system. Fritz said families fostering children are well screened but couldn't offer information on how often security checks are done.
The news sent a ripple of shock through Alberta's foster parent community, with many expressing disbelief that Prokopishin had been charged.
In a January 2007 newsletter from the Alberta Foster Parents Association, there is a photo of Prokopishin and his wife Julie posing with an award they'd received for being the foster family of the year.
Calls to the Calgary and District Foster Parents Association were referred to board president Martin Durocher, who couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Norm Brownell, president of the board of directors for the Alberta Foster Parent Association, said he has known Prokopishin for several years.
"I'm totally shocked and as far as I'm concerned, he's innocent until proven guilty," he said.
"Garry (and his wife Julie) have always been an excellent foster home. Any time anybody is charged with a potential criminal charge it is very devastating."
Brownell, who has been fostering children for 40 years, says he was shocked about the possible number of alleged victims.
"The family is a great family. When you talk about dozens of foster children, I just can't believe that," he said.
Police background checks are mandatory for foster parents every three years, Brownell said. Officials from Alberta Children's Services also do in-home visits as part of a yearly licensing review for the province's approximately 3,500 foster homes.
But there's no doubt the charges will cast a dark shadow over the foster-parenting community, Brownell said.
Sylvia Thompson, 57, of Drayton Valley, Alta., has been a foster parent for 22 years. She said the allegations are distressing given that there are regulatory checks and balances to ensure the suitability of foster parents.
"I don't know how you get away from it," said Thompson, who is vice-president of the Alberta Foster Parents Association. "Our system is probably one of the best in the country and we still run into problems," she said.

Organizations: Alberta Foster Parents Association, Calgary and District Foster Parents Association

Geographic location: Calgary, Canada, Alberta Drayton Valley

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