Cameron DeLaCroix worked with the city's most vulnerable people, despite having a criminal history of violence and sexual offences.
Now the 62-year-old is charged with sexual exploitation, sexual assault, obtaining sexual services from someone under 18, assault, mischief and breach of undertaking.
All these charges stem from a relationship between DeLaCroix and a 19-year-old woman.
He was arrested April 6 and is now charged with several sexual offences, among others.
Victoria police say the relationship started when the woman was 17 and was part of the street community.
"The victim is now an adult and this has been going on for two years now," Sgt. Grant Hamilton said.
The woman has been working with special victims unit officers to identify incidents that go back to August 2009, when she first met DeLaCroix.
DeLaCroix was arrested on Jan. 6 this year. Officers were called to a fight happening inside a vehicle parked in the 900 block of Pandora Avenue. DeLaCroix was inside with the 19-year-old woman. She told officers he assaulted her and broke her cellphone.
After the arrest, DeLaCroix was released from custody on a promise to appear in court.
The incident sparked officers' concern about the relationship. Police believe DeLaCroix used his position as an outreach worker to target vulnerable women for sex and give them drugs in return.
DeLaCroix "ingrained himself amongst agencies that service the Victoria street community, including those that provide harm-reduction supplies, and outreach and addiction services," Hamilton said.
He worked as a part-time needle exchange worker for AIDS Vancouver Island for eight years, said AVI's executive director Katrina Jensen.
"When we found out about this in January, we immediately suspended him," Jensen said. "We did an investigation of our own, but he resigned before it was completed."
Jensen wouldn't comment on DeLaCroix's character or the types of clients with whom he worked.
"None of the criminal charges relate to the work he did with us and he never worked alone," she said.
DeLaCroix started with AVI before Jensen took the executive director's seat. She couldn't say what kind of criminal record check he underwent. She added all of AVI's staff and volunteers have been sumbitted to provincially standardized checks since January.
He also worked for the Umbrella Society, which helps people with addictions. Calls to the Umbrella Society were not immediately returned.
PEERS Resource Society, which works with people involved in Victoria's sex trade, received an application two years ago from DeLaCroix to be a member of its board of directors. PEERS' executive director Marcela Mrnka said he didn't get past the first step of their screening test and was turned down.
Police are concerned that someone with such a criminal history was hired by outreach agencies.
"The Victoria police are very concerned because during this investigation, and after speaking with several outreach agencies, there appears to be a wide range in the (methodology) of background checks on potential outreach workers employed by these agencies, a limited probation or training period, and lack of supervision of those employees or volunteers who work with the street community and those who may be easily exploited," Hamilton said. "Many of these agencies are non-profit and are not regulated or (do not) report to a public body when it comes to employee accountability and conduct."
DeLaCroix is scheduled to be in court April 18.
Police believe there are more victims. Anyone with information can call Det. Sgt. Todd Wellman at 250-995-7276.
Training vital for outreach workers
Extreme caution and good judgment are vital when hiring people who work with Victoria's most vulnerable people, said Marcela Mrnka, executive director of PEERS.
"The services we provide are being provided to the most stigmatized, marginalized people on the planet," she said of agencies that do similar work.
Applicants for paid or volunteer positions must have the training required to ensure they work professionally with clients.
A criminal history is acceptable, Mrnka said, if it’s a history that doesn't send red flags.
A former sex worker and drug addict herself, Mrnka said distance and training is needed before someone with that kind of past can be an outreach worker.
"It's our job (as agencies) to protect (our clients)," she said. "It's not (a client's) job to get their background, or get someone's credentials. … There are huge ethical and professional considerations."