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Show goes on for theatre company

By Morgan Ian Adams, Roberta Bell, QMIAgency

Hugh (Sandy) Thorburn

Hugh (Sandy) Thorburn

COLLINGWOOD — As they say in the theatre world, the show must go on.

That reality hit Theatre Collingwood on Tuesday morning, rather disconcertingly, after the director and actor in the company’s latest show, Billy Bishop Goes to War, was denied bail on charges of possession and production of child pornography.

Sandy Thorburn, 49, was arrested on Friday, and also faces charges of juvenile prostitution and internet luring. According to the Orillia OPP, the investigation is continuing and further charges against the Toronto resident are pending.

Theatre Collingwood’s executive director Erica Angus said the company was told Friday Thorburn wouldn’t be able to make that evening’s performance because of an ‘emergency’, and might not be available for the weekend performances, either.

Angus said musician and Collingwood native Greg Gibson “stepped into the role flawlessly” to provide the musical accompaniment and narrator for Mark McGrinder, who portrays Bishop — along with 17 other characters.

Gibson will continue through the remaining performances. The final production is Saturday.

“I’ve known Greg for years,” said Angus. “It just happens he contacted me a couple of weeks ago to say he was going to be in town until September.

“He learned the show in three hours.”

It wasn’t until Monday night, when news of Thorburn’s arrest became public, that Theatre Collingwood officials realized what happened.

Angus said Thorburn was hired specifically for the Billy Bishop show on a short-term contractual basis, “is no longer employed by Theatre Collingwood.

“As you can imagine, all cast, crew, and staff are devastated,” said Angus, who noted Thorburn is “highly regarded... and came with great recommendations about how talented he is.”

Billy Bishop Goes to War is back on stage Wednesday at the Gayety Theatre in downtown Collingwood, with shows at 2 and 8 p.m.

The Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances start at 8 p.m.

Thorburn was arrested in the parking lot of the Monte Carlo Inn on Hart Drive in Barrie while in the company of a 17-year-old girl, said Det.-Sgt. Terry Paddon, head of the OPP's child sexual exploitation unit.

On June 24, the child sexual exploitation unit received a complaint from the family member of a 16-year-old Orillia girl contacted by the accused via social media, said Paddon, noting the girl never met up with him.

"It became apparent that this was going to be bigger than we anticipated initially," he said. "There was going to be more than just an online component to it."

Working in conjunction with Orillia OPP, the child sexual exploitation unit identified other teenage girls in the area contacted by the accused, who used aliases that included Ryan Wardle, Lydia Lensky, Theron Sypra and Andre Stein and claimed to represent Model Mayhem, Model Desire and modeling agencies to gain the trust of his victims, said Paddon.

While information was available online about some of the aliases and agencies, Paddon believes the accused — who paid the girls for the photographs and in several instances, offered them money in exchange for sexual services — posted it himself to create legitimacy around his guise.

"I don't think initially they were of the belief or knowledge they were showing up for pornography pictures by any means," said Paddon, noting while some of the photographs retrieved after OPP executed a search warrant at Thorburn's Coxwell Avenue home were pornographic in nature, in others "the girls were clothed or clothed in such a way that they were believed to be modeling pictures."

It's unclear why the accused had been targeting girls in the Orillia area at this point, said Paddon.

"I don't know the answer to that question. It's something that I've asked myself since the beginning of this whole thing when we came to the realization our offender lived in Toronto," he said.

Thorburn was a contract lecturer at Lakehead University's Orillia campus from 2008 until 2012 teaching music courses, confirmed spokesperson Kathy Hunt, noting he is no longer employed there.

"We have no evidence to suggest there was any connection between what he was doing at Lakehead," Paddon said. "None of the victims that I'm aware of are even old enough to have any association to Lakehead University."

Paddon does not yet know how many victims there are.

"There's a lot of evidence that hasn't been sifted through yet," he said.

A bail hearing was scheduled Monday for Thorburn, who is being held in custody, in Barrie provincial court Monday, but it was deferred until July 22.

Anyone who may have had dealings with the above aliases or agencies or who many additional information pertaining to the investigation is asked to contact the OPP child sexual exploitation unit at 705-330-3240.

- with files from Roberta Bell, QMI Agency

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