Warning: Graphic content follows.
A former Degrassi High actor pleaded guilty to five child pornography-related charges Tuesday, admitting that he not only possessed thousands of X-rated images and videos involving children but that he recorded two himself.
“Thank you, everybody, for getting to this point,” Jason (Byrd) Dickens, 47, said in the nearly empty Ontario Court of Justice courtroom at Old City Hall.
Dickens’ wife, Dylan McEwen, is already serving a six-year sentence after pleading guilty in June to making and possessing child pornography, sexual assault and counselling for a sexual purpose a person under 16 years to touch her with an object.
The couple, who met on a bondage website in 2004, were active members of the BDSM community and openly practised a consensual “Master-slave” relationship, which they formalized with a “collaring” ceremony, Crown attorney Jennifer Gibson said, reading from an eight-page agreed statement of facts.
They married in 2008 when he was 36 and she was 22. Dickens was employed as a rigging gaffer in the film and TV industry and McEwen ran a massage therapy clinic in Toronto’s west end.
The U.S.-based search engine Google became aware of suspected child pornography uploads from two email addresses later found to belong to Dickens, according to a judge’s written reasons in McEwen’s case. A report was sent to the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, leading officers with the Toronto police sex crime unit to obtain search warrants for the couple’s Etobicoke bungalow and Dickens’ workplace.
Police seized dozens of digital devices and found approximately 25,000 child porn images and 111 videos, including animated and non-animated depictions of children of all ages, including infants, engaged in all forms of explicit sexual assault, Gibson said.
Dickens stood throughout the proceedings in the prisoner dock, wearing a black hoodie and pants. He occasionally lowered the glasses on his head to read along from the agreed statement of facts. At one point, while crying and dabbing his eyes with a tissue, Justice Steven Clark asked Dickens if he needed time to compose himself. He declined and the hearing continued.
He has remained in custody since his arrest on April 25, 2016, and has been representing himself.
Appearing on a large TV monitor was a 29-year-old victim, whose identity is also covered under a publication ban, whose mother arranged an online “date” with Dickens when she teenager in 2003. The mother informed Dickens “that she had a daughter who was turning 15 shortly, who was interested in older dominant men,” Gibson said.
Dickens, who would have been in his early 30s, captured several images of their sexual contact with a digital camera, that he saved and Toronto police found in 2016.
His face is clearly visible, as is that of the then teenager and her mother, who sat nearby and “offered encouragement (and) assuring words” to her daughter to engage in sexual conduct with Dickens. The woman told police she was the victim of incest at the hands of her mother and stepfather from the time she was about 12 years of age.
Her mother was sentenced last year to five years in prison and put on the sex offender registry for life.
A sentencing date for Dickens has not yet been set.
Dickens appeared in 10 episodes of the CBC television show Degrassi High in the early 1990s. He portrayed Scott Smith, the abusive boyfriend of one of the main characters in the series.
Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy