Victor Chernick, renowned Winnipeg pediatrician, accused of sexually abusing his children

Retired doctor faces lawsuit, criminal charges

May 20, 2015

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Retired Winnipeg pediatrician Victor Chernick, a professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba and an internationally-recognized scholar, is being accused of sexually abusing two of his own children hundreds of times.  2:20

Retired Winnipeg pediatrician Victor Chernick, a professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba and an internationally-recognized scholar, is being accused of sexually abusing two of his own children hundreds of times.

Chernick, 79, is a former chief pediatrician at Winnipeg's Children's Hospital, and he was a professor and chair of the pediatrics department at the University of Manitoba where he began teaching in 1966. He received many honours for his medical research, including the Queen Elizabeth Scientist Award for medical research in 1967.


Retired pediatrician Victor Chernick, seen in this archival photo, faces allegations he sexually abused two of his own children. (Winnipeg Children's Hospital Pictorial Archive )

In a lawsuit filed last year, two of Chernick's children — Richard and Sharon — allege their father "sexually, physically, emotionally and mentally abused, assaulted and traumatized" them and committed incest and gross indecency on them for years.

In his statement of defence, Chernick denies the allegations and said they are made out of spite and ill-will, and result from "fertile imaginations." The allegations are not proven and have not yet been tried in court.

Chernick is also facing five criminal charges laid by the Crown in January 2014, related to sexual abuse of his son Richard. He maintains his innocence.

In a court affidavit, Chernick said he has dedicated his entire adult life to the research and advancement of children's health issues and has treated thousands of children over the years.

But two of his own children said they saw a different side.

In their lawsuit, Richard and Sharon said they had to develop "psychological coping mechanisms in order to survive the horror of the incest, sexual assault and gross indecency. These included denial, repression, dissociation, avoidance, guilt and substance abuse."

Both contend that because of this alleged abuse they have suffered many ill-effects, including suicidal impulses, depression, and an inability to develop and maintain intimate relationships.

Abuse allegedly began in 1971

The civil suit alleges the father sexually abused Sharon starting on her birthday in 1971, when she was 10.

Dr. Victor Chernick (left) appears with Queen Elizabeth in Winnipeg in 1970. (Winnipeg Children's Hospital Pictorial Archive)

The claim said the sexual assaults against Sharon happened several times weekly until she was 15, and then sporadically until she was 17 — hundreds of occasions in all.

The last such assault occurred when she was 24, the claim said.

The claim said the father threatened Sharon when she was 12 that if she told anyone about the abuse he would have her "put away."

The suit said Victor Chernick began to sexually assault his son in 1974 when Richard was 12 and continued until around age 18, on at least 100 occasions.

Some of those sexual assaults happened while the family was on vacation in the United States, the lawsuit said. Chernick taught at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the 1960s and lectured at Harvard University in the 1970s.

Chernick was charged in 1991 with a number of sexual offences involving a minor. The charges were stayed in 1993 after the complainant recanted earlier testimony.

Richard and Sharon allege in their lawsuit that in addition to the sexual abuse, they were also physically assaulted at unpredictable times and for no apparent reason when they were both under the age of 12, causing them to fear their father "and to submit passively to his demands."

Mother named as co-defendant

The siblings also name their mother, Norma Chernick, as a co-defendant in the lawsuit, saying she failed to protect the children "from the ongoing sexual, mental and emotional assault" even though she was aware of the abuse.

The claim alleges the children both told their mother about the abuse. Norma witnessed her husband on numerous occasions beating or fondling the children, but failed to help them, the claim alleges.

Sharon and Richard Chernick are claiming an unspecified amount of damages from their parents and compensation for breach of fiduciary duty to care for their children, as well as other costs. Their parents are asking for the suit to be dismissed with costs.

The two children allege their father's conduct "was intentional, malicious, and done with full knowledge that it would cause each plaintiff to suffer humiliation, indignity, physical, emotional and mental distress and other injuries."

In a joint defence statement, Victor and Norma Chernick call the allegations "outrageous and outlandish." They said the allegations may result from "suggestions from other persons having influence upon the plaintiffs."

A preliminary hearing into the criminal charges is scheduled for next month.

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