Former ‘Degrassi High’ actor pleads guilty to child porn charges


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.

Jason (Byrd) Dickens, seen in a Toronto police photo, left, and as Scott Smith in “Degrassi High,” pleaded guilty to child porn charges in Toronto on Tuesday.
Jason (Byrd) Dickens, seen in a Toronto police photo, left, and as Scott Smith in “Degrassi High,” pleaded guilty to child porn charges in Toronto on Tuesday.  (Toronto Police/YouTube)

“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


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Local actor lands lead role in musical world premiere at Theatre Calgary – Calgary


Calgary actor Katie McMillan was just trying to get through the end of her final semester of high school when an opportunity to perform in a Theatre Calgary production was brought to her attention by an acting teacher.

“I had no idea what it was and I just submitted [the application] online,” said McMillan.

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She got the audition, but the 18-year-old admitted she “had no clue” she would be trying out for a part in the world debut of Mary and Max – A New Musical — a play co-created by New York-based duo Bobby Cronin, composer and lyricist, and Crystal Skillman, theatre bookwriter.

“I went in for the ensemble part and they asked me to look young,” McMillan said. The actor said she was told she could be considered for the much bigger role of “young Mary,” the musical’s female lead.

“I was not expecting to get it all,” she said.

“Mary and Max – A New Musical” is a play co-created by New York-based duo Bobby Cronin, composer and lyricist, and Crystal Skillman, theatre bookwriter.

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After casting Broadway performer and California native, Lauren Elder, as the adult version of Mary, Cronin and Skillman searched across Canada and the U.S. for her younger counterpart. The leading lady they’d been looking for was in Calgary all along.

“I swear, Katie walked in the room and I looked at Crystal and I looked at Anna, our music supervisor, and I went, ‘It’s young Lauren,’ ” said Cronin.

“There was just something about her energy and her glow that reminded me of the character and of Lauren.”

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And then he heard McMillan belt it out.

“As she sang, tears streamed down my face,” Cronin said.

He recalled turning to Stafford Arima, artistic director at Theatre Calgary, and saying, “It’s her. I don’t need to see anyone else.”

Calgary actor Katie McMillan, 18, will make her Theatre Calgary debut in the world premiere of “Mary and Max – A New Musical” later this month.

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McMillan was equally moved and has been enjoying the unexpected thrill of working with some of the industry’s best since rehearsals began nearly four months ago.

“I went in really excited just to perform in front of them, so having it go the way it did was very unexpected,” McMillan said. “It was incredible.”

McMillan shares a few traits with her character.

“I think our spirits are similar. We have similar views on the world,” said McMillian. “I think life is awesome and she’s very positive. She finds the best in things and I try to find the best in things.”

Mary and Max – A New Musical tells the tale of 10-year-old Mary from Melbourne who becomes pen pals with Max, a 44-year-old New Yorker who has Asperger’s Syndrome.

The production chronicles their friendship over the span of 20 years and how it influences Mary’s life choices. The story deals with serious subject matters like bullying and loneliness but also uses humour to show how each character helps the other grow.

Based on a true story, Mary and Max – A New Musical opens Oct. 16 and runs until Nov. 11. Tickets can be purchased on Theatre Calgary’s website or by calling the box office at 403-294-7447.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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