A highly accomplished University of Toronto professor and former deputy minister charged with crimes relating to child pornography had been the subject of three separate police investigations in Ontario and New Zealand.
Benjamin Levin, 61, had come on the radar of the Toronto Police Service as a suspect some time around the middle of 2012, said Detective Constable Janelle Blackadar of the sex-crimes unit. Last month, law-enforcement officials in New Zealand contacted the Toronto police regarding Mr. Levin. A database search by Det. Constable Blackadar led her to the realization that Ontario’s London Police Service was also investigating him. London and New Zealand law enforcement agencies had been investigating him since late last year.
The tenured professor, who was named to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s transition government after Dalton McGuinty stepped down, was arrested just before 6 a.m. Monday at his north Toronto home. Toronto police have charged him with making and distributing child pornography, counselling to commit an indictable offence and an arrangement to commit a sexual offence against a child under the age of 16. All the offences are alleged to have taken place in Ontario.
In court Monday afternoon, the Crown said that more charges could be laid. The court gave the Crown two more days to complete its investigation. Mr. Levin has been remanded into custody until his bail hearing on July 10.
Mr. Levin’s lawyer, Gerald Chan, said that his client is doing “fine” and “anxious to vigorously” defend the charges against him when the case goes to trial.
“What we’re going to argue to the court is that this is not someone for whom bail should be denied,” Mr. Chan said. “He’s in no danger of leaving the jurisdiction, he is in no danger of committing an offence.”
Aside from his professorial role at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), Mr. Levin is also the Canada Research Chair in Leadership and Educational Change.
A native of Winnipeg, the Harvard-educated Mr. Levin initially worked for the Manitoba government, rising to become the top public servant in both the ministries of Advanced Education and Education, Training and Youth. The Ontario government recruited Mr. Levin after an international search to serve as deputy minister of education during a key period when Mr. McGuinty was pumping money into the education system and pushing an ambitious agenda meant to raise Ontario students’ academic performance and increase graduation rates. Government sources credited Mr. Levin with successfully implementing these policies, improving literacy and numeracy rates and raising test scores.
He has won top awards for his work in education including the Lieutenant Governors’ Medal for Service to Public Administration in Manitoba in 2004 and the Outstanding Educator of the Year award from the Phi Delta Kappan Toronto chapter in 2010. Phi Delta Kappan describes itself as an international association of professionals interested in public education. Mr. Levin’s leadership helped the province raise test scores and slash drop-out rates, a government source said.
People who worked with Mr. Levin during his time in government described him as popular within the civil service and an easy person to get along with.
“Ben Levin is nationally recognized as a leader in education policy, with a significant record of achievement in Ontario and Manitoba. These charges will be a massive shock to his colleagues across the country,” said Tony Dean, who was the head of Ontario’s public service when Mr. Levin worked there.
Mr. Levin maintained his ties to the government after leaving its employ to work for OISE and joined Ms. Wynne’s transition team this year. The team acted as an advisory body to Ms. Wynne before she was sworn in and during the first few weeks of her administration. The team, including Mr. Levin, would meet regularly with Ms. Wynne, and she would solicit its advice on high-level policy and strategy matters, government sources said.
The University of Toronto, the Premier’s office and the Education Minister’s office all refused to comment on Mr. Levin’s arrest. Liz Sandals, Ontario’s Education Minister, issued a statement to say that Mr. Levin’s work with the ministry has been suspended as a result of the charges against him. Mr. Levin had recently been contracted to work on research projects with the ministry. He also made appearances as a guest speaker.
“I am aware of the very serious allegations brought forward against Dr. Ben Levin,” Ms. Sandals said in an e-mail. “Dr. Levin’s only recent involvement with the Ministry has been on contract research projects and guest speaking roles through his capacity as a professor at OISE, work that has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.”
Mr. Levin also advised the New Zealand Ministry of Education on “education strategy issues” as outlined on his CV, but a spokesperson for the ministry said he does not have a current contract with it. Toronto police said they are not aware if he actually travelled to New Zealand.
Det. Constable Blackadar said the investigation is continuing. There are no other suspects at this time, she said, but that could change after police examine a computer and electronic storage devices that were retrieved from Mr. Levin`s home.
Mr. Levin is a married father and grandfather.