MONTREAL — B’nai Brith Canada is distancing itself from its former Quebec regional director Bill Surkis, who pleaded guilty to child pornography charges last week.
“Mr. Surkis was neither an employee nor involved with B’nai B’rith during the entirety of the period covered by these allegations, and, therefore, we have no comment,” was the statement read to The CJN by Joanna Gosse, administrative assistant at the organization’s Montreal office.
Surkis, 70, who worked for B’nai Brith until early 2007, pleaded guilty in Quebec Court to one count of possession of child pornography and one count of accessing child pornography on the Internet. A third count of distribution was dropped.
Sentencing arguments are to begin Sept. 27. Surkis has been out on bail since his arrest in May 2008.
Surkis, who is represented by Steven Slimovitch, legal counsel to B’nai Brith, has maintained that the photos and videos found on his personal computer’s hard drive were downloaded for research he was doing on abuse of the Internet. His lawyer said he planned to speak in schools about the issue.
Prosecutors, however, said there was no evidence Surkis had been hired to undertake such research or give such talks.
Evidence entered in court was that 86 criminal videos and 153 photos were downloaded onto his computer between July and November 2008. The material was discovered by a technician at an electronics store where Surkis had brought the computer in for service.
Surkis was academic dean at John Abbott College for 22 years. He was then executive director of the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre for a half-dozen years before going on to B’nai Brith.
Since leaving B’nai Brith, he had been a consultant to several Jewish groups, including the organizers of the downtown Israel Day rally in 2008 and last year.