By Andrew Ehrkamp
News Editor

A 33-year-old man who has been impersonating a priest in public and online, faces eight sexual assault and child pornography charges against two teenage boys under 16.

Justin Georges Stephen Coulombe was arrested on July 27 in a northwest Edmonton home by the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team’s Internet Child Exploitation Unit (ICE), with the help of the Edmonton Police Service.

Coulombe falsely identifies himself as if he is a member of the Catholic clergy, but he is not a priest – nor has he studied to be one - in the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton or any other diocese in Canada or the United States.

“It’s shocking and distressing when a child or vulnerable person is offended against in this way. Our thoughts and our prayers certainly go out to any of the victims in this incident,” said Lorraine Turchansky, chief communications officer for The Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.

“It’s someone who is completely impersonating one of our priests and perpetrating a falsehood or a fantasy. It is very disturbing and we’re grateful that some charges have been laid today.”

Coulombe has been charged with two counts of luring to commit the making of child pornography and one count each of luring to commit an offence against a child, sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual assault, possession of child pornography and extortion.

Coulombe was initially released until his next court appearance on August 21 in Edmonton. On August 3, he was re-arrested and taken into custody after two more victims came forward with information. Additional charges laid against him include four counts of sexual interference and one count of invitation to sexual touching.

Edmonton police say the investigation began in late June 2017 after the mother of one of the alleged victims came forward to police with information about sexually graphic messages that had been exchanged online for up to a year.

ICE alleges that the relationship with one boy then became sexual online and in-person, while the offences against the second teenage boy were solely committed online. Police found child pornography images on electronic devices they seized.

“This case is troubling,” said Det. Brian Cross of the Internet Child Exploitation Unit. “It leads me to believe that a young man was groomed and this contact was set up to take place over time.

Cross said the contact doesn’t appear to be under the guise of Coulombe pretending to be a priest.

“However we don’t know if that’s been done to facilitate other crimes. We’re still investigating that.”

Turchansky noted that the Archdiocese has strict guidelines for both clergy and lay employees to prevent abuse, and this year received accreditation from a U.S. company, Praesidum, for its program to promote safe environments at its parishes and institutions.

“It’s horrifying that someone could be injured in the name of the Church,” Turchansky said. “It’s not that it has never happened, as we all know, but we are doing our absolute best to ensure it doesn’t happen.”

Anyone concerned about the behaviour of someone who purports to be a priest can check the list of clergy on the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton website, or they can call the chancery office at 780-469-1010 or the parish directly.

Investigators say Coulombe moved from Edmonton to Langley, B.C., then back again at the beginning of 2017. Police say contact predated him moving to Edmonton. Coulombe was not married, and there were no children in the home when he was arrested.

ICE investigators believe there may be more victims in this case and are looking to speak to anyone from either province who may have more information.

“I haven’t had anyone come forward from an agency saying that he was a volunteer or an employee of those agencies, at this point,” Cross said.

Anyone with information is asked to call their local police department or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

This article was updated on August 9, 2017.