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Charges dropped against Epp

Citing the unlikelihood of a conviction, prosecutors dropped all charges against Chilliwack teacher Jason Epp Wednesday.

Appearing before a small, but full, courtroom in Chilliwack, crown counsel Wendy van Tomgeren-Harvey told a judge that, after reviewing evidence from a lengthy investigation, Epp would not likely have been convicted if his case had gone to trial in September as had been planned.

"The Crown has concluded that we have a legal, moral and ethical duty to come to court and say there is not a substantial likelihood of conviction," van Tomgeren-Harvey told the court.

Charges of sexual interference and assault were laid against Epp in May of 2010 on the basis of interviews with two students at Sardis elementary school, where Epp taught.

Since then, she said that Mounties had "conducted a very comprehensive investigation," that included around 130 interviews with students, parents and staff members. Police also interviewed all children in Epp's Grade 2 classes in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years.

The file on the case eventually consisted of about 3,000 pages of evidence, according to van Tomgeren-Harvey. It was after reviewing the evidence that Crown counsel decided to ask for a stay of proceedings, which means that all charges against Epp will be dropped.

Judge Roy Dickey commended

Crown counsel for making the decision to stay charges now, instead of during the trial, which had been scheduled to commence Sept. 19.

"It's better for it to happen at this point in [time] than to have it happen after the witnesses have testified and gone through that process," said Dickey.

After a brief court hearing, Epp's lawyer Claire Hatcher told reporters that the case has been "immensely" stressful on her client and his family.

"Mr. Epp and his family have maintained his innocence from the start of the process and they are looking forward to moving on with their lives," she said.

As for whether Epp would return to the classroom, Hatcher would only say that "there are some decisions that need to be made and hurdles to cross."

The school district is "conferring with the British Columbia College of Teachers and legal counsel," according to superintendent Michael Audet.

tolsen@chilliwacktimes.com

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