By Nathan Vanderklippe and Joe Friesen
A Canadian man who spent decades working with children’s organizations and received the Order of Canada for his global contributions is now locked in a crowded detention cell in Kathmandu accused of having sex with minors.
Peter Dalglish, 60, has been a leading international advocate for combatting child poverty. But early on the morning of April 7, police descended on his home in Nepal and took him away at gunpoint.
At the time of his arrest, two boys − one 12, another 14 − were in the house with him. Police say they also found photos inside the home of naked children. Mr. Dalglish has not been formally charged, but is being held while police investigate; local courts can authorize up to 25 days for such investigations. So far, three alleged victims have spoken to police. The two boys found in the house gave detailed descriptions of his alleged sexual contact with them, the father of one boy told The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Dalglish, speaking from behind bars, denied any improper contact with children, while his lawyer said the photographs are of the sort a tourist might take of unclothed children in impoverished areas. Police have yet to submit a detailed charge sheet against him. His lawyer says he will plead not guilty. “I’ve never had a civil or a criminal prosecution, ever,” Mr. Dalglish told The Globe. “But obviously, if you do the work that I do, with kids, you leave yourself open to criticism. And suspicion.”
His arrest has nevertheless brought new scrutiny to his decades of humanitarian work, which placed him in regular and close contact with children in numerous countries.
His travels took him across the globe. He delivered aid to famine-struck Ethiopia; worked with the children of murdered parents in Guatemala; evacuated children from war-torn Sudan and provided technical training to kids in Khartoum; taught sex workers’ children in Calcutta; responded to the Ebola crisis in Liberia; founded an organization that helped street kids in numerous countries; and oversaw skills training in Afghanistan.
In Kabul, he once held weekend classes for children in a bunker. He described them to the publication Tes, formerly known as the Times Educational Supplement, as “like Dead Poets Society, but with a ragtag group of kids whose entire lives have been defined by war.” At one point, 42 children showed up.
Now, his conduct is being re-evaluated by organizations around the world. One international school in Thailand that placed him under investigation late last year has removed him from its board of directors, citing concerns about his presence around children. Another school in Nepal says it banned him from its premises years ago, citing alleged conduct toward children that made administrators uneasy.
Until his arrest, however, that undercurrent had done little to mar the global profile of Mr. Dalglish as an erudite, roguishly charming leader wholly devoted to the well-being of children. Kids in Nepal and around the world loved his willingness to buck convention and spin lessons from war zones and Elizabethan poetry alike. Foreign donors were captivated by his spunk and inspirational tales. One of his recent endeavours involves supplying water to 11 Nepali villages, using US$300,000 provided by a Canadian donor. His citation from the Governor-General’s office for the Order of Canada in 2016 says he “has devoted his life to helping children escape poverty.”
But Nepali police accuse him of abusing those he pledged to help.
“He was influencing [children] to do sexual acts,” said Pushkar Karki, one of Nepal’s top police officers and director of the country’s Central Investigation Bureau. “They were lured.”
He added: “A person can be a very good person in society, but the crime they commit is different. A crime is a crime.”
Police in Nepal received a tip about Mr. Dalglish around 3 1/2 months ago from a local organization. Later, they also received notice from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the RCMP declined comment on an investigation in another country). Mr. Dalglish was travelling at the time, but “he was on our radar as soon as he landed in Nepal,” Mr. Karki said. After he was arrested, police found photographs in his home of “a lot of children in various poses,” Mr. Karki said. “Some of them are naked, some of them are not.”
He believes the children “are from around the world.”
In March, after speaking at a prominent international school in Beijing, Mr. Dalglish returned to Nepal, where he went trekking.
Unbeknownst to him, plainclothes police went in his absence to a house he had built in Nagarkot, roughly two hours by road from Kathmandu. The three-storey residence is equipped with a Finnish stone fireplace and overlooks a panorama of vertiginous terraces. On a clear day, the snow-capped Himalayas rim the horizon.
The officers who came here “said they were from an organization and wanted to help kids,” said a Nepali villager who works for Mr. Dalglish at the house in Nagarkot and whose 14-year-old son was one of the boys the plainclothes officers befriended in what police called a trust-building exercise. Police say the boy described for them sexual contact with Mr. Dalglish. (The Globe is not naming the father to protect the identity of the alleged victims.)
After Mr. Dalglish returned from the trek, officers pounced, a dozen of them arriving at his Nagarkot house at dawn. They found two boys − the villager's son and his 12-year-old nephew inside, and seized Mr. Dalglish’s computer and mobile phone.
Mr. Dalglish was taken away “with a gun to his head,” his lawyer, Rahul Chapagain, said . But the police case against him is “just an accusation, or allegations. It has not been presented to the court,” he said. Mr. Dalglish has told him that the photos, for example, are of “children from places he has been travelling around the world, especially African children,” some of whom wore no clothing. “It’s not a single child in a room in a [sexual condition], but it’s more of a natural state: They were naked.”
Mrr. Chapagain has not seen the images himself; police have yet to formally submit evidence. But “obviously we are pleading not guilty,” he said.
In the days since Mr. Dalglish’s arrest, the boys have given statements and undergone medical examinations. The father of the 14-year-old boy also provided a written statement to police, parts of which he described to The Globe in an interview.
“The kids told me that they took a shower [and] got naked” with Mr. Dalglish, he said.
“He did that and also played with their genitals,” the father said. Mr. Dalglish also had intercourse with them, he said. “It’s just unthinkable.”
Mr. Dalglish was married with a daughter when he moved into a house in Kathmandu in 2002. Neither his daughter nor his wife, from whom he has since separated, ever lived with him in the country.
However, young Nepali males regularly stayed at his house. He often entertained young people he financially supported − most of them male, according to five people who know him − bringing them to his place to eat, read and watch cartoons.
Mr. Dalglish sponsored school fees for numerous students, sometimes bringing them on overseas travel to events such as the Model United Nations. The children he supported “were poor but really talented,” said Chiri Maharjan, who once worked as a gardener for Mr. Dalglish, becoming such a trusted friend that his name is on the title for the Nagarkot home.
One boy he found carrying bags for Japanese tourists, another at a community learning centre. He found Rishi Bastakoti, who is now 20, selling postcards on the side of the road when he was 12 years old. The boy told Mr. Dalglish that his mother had recently died and his father “doesn’t care about me. I told him all this story, and he said, ‘Maybe I’ll sponsor you.’”
Soon, Mr. Dalglish began sending money. “School fees, uniform, books, everything,” Mr. Bastakoti said. A child in Nepal can be educated for as little as $750 a year. The money continued through high school and then college, where Mr. Bastakoti studied hotel management for two years. He had an opportunity to travel with Mr. Dalglish, too, accompanying him twice to Model UN events in Singapore.
Mr. Dalglish also helped his family, providing money to rebuild his grandfather’s house after the 2015 earthquake that struck Nepal.
“He is more than a father to us. He’s a great guy,” Mr. Bastakoti said. There was no sexual contact between the two, he said.
Mr. Dalglish “hasn’t done any bad things to us,” added Krishna Gurung, 21, another Nepali man sponsored by Mr. Dalglish for roughly a decade. “He always said ‘Stay away from drugs, stay away from bad people.’ I don’t believe that he has done those kind of things to other people.”
Elsewhere, however, the interactions between Mr. Dalglish and students raised suspicions, including on the grounds of Shree Mangal Dvip Boarding School, which provides free Buddhist education to lower-caste children from impoverished high-altitude locations. Situated in Kathmandu, the school educates hundreds of children who might otherwise remain illiterate, housing them in dormitories and teaching them English.
In 2003, Mr. Dalglish volunteered to teach a weekly leadership class at the school. He was a “really, really challenging, wonderful teacher. Kids loved what he did,” said Shirley Blair, a Canadian teacher who is the school’s long-time director. Some 40 children might attend a class.
Then something happened that worried Ms. Blair. One day, Mr. Dalglish emerged from class surrounded by children, “and he was trying to convince me to bend a rule to let kids stay overnight,” Ms. Blair said. She refused, irritated that he would seek to undermine her authority.
But standing next to her was a visitor, a teacher from the United States, who watched the exchange and expressed concern about Mr. Dalglish’s relationship with the children. “It was like a blinding flash of lightning for me,” Ms. Blair said. (The Globe verified this account with the visiting teacher.)
Mr. Dalglish had invited the school’s students to his home for dinner on occasion and administrators had “heard about some suspicious behaviours with our children,” said Khenpo Chonyi Rangdrol, who was principal at the school from 2004 to 2011.
But an investigation failed to uncover clear evidence. Mr. Rangdrol and Ms. Blair confronted Mr. Dalglish nevertheless, couching their concern in terms of alcohol: Perhaps he was drinking too much, and “once you are drunk you don’t know what you are doing,” Mr. Rangdrol said.
Eventually, Ms. Blair says she banned Mr. Dalglish from the school. “I said you are persona non grata.” In their final conversation, about seven years ago, she says she told him “You need help.”
Mr. Dalglish disputes this. He left the school “for different reasons,” he said in an interview, but primarily because work took him to Afghanistan. “I was never banned from the school,” he said.
He spoke from a concrete detention room in downtown Kathmandu, inside the guarded compound of the Central Investigation Bureau. He and 10 other men share a concrete cell that measures roughly seven by four paces. Visitors must provide fingerprints and surrender identification and phones to see him.
“This is obviously a horrible circumstance to be in,” he said on a recent day when approached by a Globe reporter, whom he greeted cheerily. He began by introducing some of his cellmates − they are “a really good team,” he said − and offering flattery about the professionalism of his treatment.
“This is not the Hyatt,” he said, wearing a camouflage-patterned T-shirt. But, he added, the experience has “showed me some of the best of Nepal in terms of the men I’m sharing the cell with, all of whom have been supportive and kind and protective of me.”
Leaning against the bars of his cell as he spoke, he answered questions for nearly 15 minutes.
Asked whether he had showered and had sex with the boys in his house, he said “No, never. Never, never.” He “completely” denied any inappropriate sexual relations with children at any time.
The boys in his house at the time of his arrest, he said “are people I’ve known for some time. So it’s not as if, you know, I’ve picked somebody off the street.
“You should also know that they were not found in my bedroom,” he said. One was on a couch just outside his upstairs sleeping quarters. Another was on the main floor.
The son of the villager who spoke to The Globe was in the house for his own well-being, Mr. Dalglish said, since the boy’s home village is plagued by alcohol problems. And after the father married again, his new wife “doesn’t necessarily want the first wife’s children around,” Mr. Dalglish said. The boy, he added “never stayed in my house unless his father was on the grounds.”
The father contradicted parts of that account, saying his son is welcome to stay with his new wife. His son stayed with Mr. Dalglish because Mr. Dalglish invited him, he said. The same was true for the nephew. “One day, Peter told my son, ‘Call that boy to stay over,’” the father said.
When The Globe continued to ask questions, Mr. Dalglish said “We should probably wrap things up.” Told police now have three alleged victims, one of whose allegations date back more than a decade, he said: “Let’s talk to the judge and we’ll see what happens in court. Thank you, my friend.”
What transpires in that court is likely to be watched intently at the organizations where Mr. Dalglish came into contact with children over his lengthy career.
In interviews, he has described taking on an activist role in his teens, before going on to graduate from Dalhousie University law school and Stanford in the United States. He briefly worked in the Prime Minister’s Office under Pierre Trudeau before taking work as a lawyer. Then, in 1984, he was seized by images of children starving in Ethiopia. He organized an aid shipment and then accompanied it to Ethiopia.
While there, “I saw these kids and I realized they were the most extraordinary children I had ever met and my life would be working for them,” he said in an interview with WTV, the student channel at Wellington College in Britain.
It’s a story he has recounted to students around the world, typically elite high schools, such as the United World Colleges, where he would encourage young people to consider avenues in life outside of the traditional pathways to wealth and prestige, such as law and business.
Now, some of those schools are severing ties with him. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Dalglish was a board member at the United World College Thailand (UWCT). In a statement, UWCT said Mr. Dalglish had limited contact with students and was present for only four board meetings since his appointment in 2017.
Last November, according to the school, “speculation surfaced about potential inappropriate conduct involving children” − although the speculation did not involve children from UWCT. The school launched an inquiry, led by an external forensic psychologist, and spoke to those pupils who had the most direct contact with Mr. Dalglish. It concluded no students had been assaulted or exploited.
The school said that once the inquiry was complete, concerns were raised about the appropriateness of allowing Mr. Dalglish to be around the children. The school said it had decided to suspend Mr. Dalglish from the board, but he was arrested before the suspension was issued. It has now taken effect, according to the statement issued by the school.
“I feel deeply wounded, and I really regret if I’ve done anything to damage the reputations of these schools, or their leaders,” Mr. Dalglish said.
The breadth of his career means many others are similarly taking stock.
He was the founder of Street Kids International, which has now merged with Save the Children. In the years that followed, he taught at his alma mater, Upper Canada College. He became the first director of Youth Service International (Canada’s volunteer civilian corps for young people), executive director of the South Asia Children’s Fund and a senior adviser to the AWR Lloyd Foundation, according to the foundation’s website.
UCC said it has no record of complaints or other information suggesting sexual assault by Mr. Dalglish. His image has been deleted from the AWR Lloyd site; a spokesperson said he “has had no formal or active relationship with our firm.”
Mr. Dalglish also held a series of senior United Nations posts, including with the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization and UN-Habitat.
The WHO said it received no complaints about his behaviour while he worked there. UN-Habitat said that “based on initial consultations” it had “found that there were no reports or allegations on any misconduct during his tenure with UN-Habitat.” The ILO said it “had no association with Mr. Dalglish since the conclusion of his engagement in 2005. In view of the allegations made against him, the ILO is undertaking its own examination of these matters.”
In Nepal, meanwhile, police are grappling with a series of foreign pedophiles in their country. Mr. Karki has had recent cases from Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. In 2015, a Nepali court jailed another Canadian, Ernest Fenwick MacIntosh, for child molestation. Maiti Nepal, a non-profit that works to combat sex trafficking, has observed a rise in local sex-related crimes in recent years, following a crackdown in Thailand that has displaced some of those activities to other countries.
Mr. Karki worries that what has made Nepal such an attractive place to tourists − its welcoming people, its deference to foreigners − has also made it vulnerable. “The tiger is killed because of its nice, beautiful skin. It is not preserved,” he said.
Among critics of international organizations, the arrest of Mr. Dalglish has renewed calls for greater scrutiny of foreign officials dispatched to impoverished countries, particularly those who occupy privileged positions with children. “You have to remember that UN officials have immunity from prosecution. So quite often, crimes are committed by UN officials because they know they can easily get away with them,” said Rasna Warah, a Kenyan columnist and author of Unsilenced: Unmasking the United Nations’ Culture of Cover-ups, Corruption and Impunity.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said “we must end impunity for those guilty of sexual exploitation and abuse.”
But large organizations must do more, including the installation of software to help spot pedophiles, said Lori Handrahan, author of Epidemic: America’s Trade in Child Rape.
Because, experts say, history shows that those who hurt children are also often those who serve them.
”Anybody who is going to gain access to children has to groom everybody around them first − and they do that by pretending that they care so much about children,” Ms. Handrahan said. That is “a classic profile of a pedophile.”