A judge has ordered two sisters from Ancaster, Ont., to pay their uncle $125,000 in libel damages for falsely accusing him of sexually assaulting them in a rural farmhouse when they were children.
"I find that the evidence adduced at trial was not of the clear and cogent nature required to substantiate the defendants' claim of sexual abuse," wrote Ontario Superior Court Justice Andrew Goodman in his decision in the case.
According to court documents, the accusations ripped apart the extended family of those involved, all part of the same church.
The sisters alleged the uncle sexually assaulted them when the two were staying at his Simcoe, Ont., farm in the early 1980s. Criminal charges were never laid. Philip Tunley, the lawyer for the two sisters, told CBC News the family will not comment on the case.
"Neither they nor I will make further comment to the press," Tunley said.
The sisters were four and six years old at the time, court documents say. Now in their 30s, the two first came forward with the accusations in 2006.
"In the years including and between 1982 and 1986, when the abuse is alleged to have occurred, both (sisters) spent a lot of time at the farmhouse," Goodman said, adding that their uncle's farmhouse was like a "second home" to the girls.
During the court proceedings, the younger sister testified that she had two distinct memories of being sexually abused by her uncle. In the first, she recalled feeling like she was being pinned down by her uncle, and she had pain in her legs or groin. Years later, she believed the pain was in her vaginal area, court documents say.
In the second incident, she recalled being pulled up onto a bed in her cousin's bedroom where the children often stayed and something soft being placed in her mouth, which "may have been his penis."
The older sister also described two memories of being assaulted, which she described as a static image like "a snapshot" or "an out-of-body experience."
"(She) testified that she does not see (her uncle's) face but, as with the first memory, she knows it is (him)," court documents say.
Uncle denied allegations
The two sisters did not come forward until 2006. The two spoke about it for the first time and then went to their parents about it. "Her parents.... were in disbelief," court documents say.
In August 2006, the sisters confronted their uncle about the allegations, which he denied.
The day after the confrontation, the youngest, with her sister's input, sent an email to various family members and "other individuals" outlining the allegations. It also contained the line, "We do not want anyone else to be sexually abused." That statement was part of the crux of the judge's statement in the case. Goodman says it was intended to demonstrate "that (the uncle) is a sexual predator, likely to reoffend and is not to be trusted or left alone with children."
"(He) is a man who comes from an extended family and indeed, cherishes family, church and community. As a result of these allegations, I am satisfied that (he) has been shunned by a number of his family members including several of his sisters," Goodman wrote in his decision. "(He) had to profess his innocence to his children. (He) had to face these allegations in the public and cope with their effect as it was felt throughout his close-knit religious community."
The judge also dismissed a counterclaim for sexual battery filed by the sisters after the uncle sued for defamation, because their memories of the alleged incidents weren't "of the clear and cogent nature required" to back up their claims.
Damages include court costs
Goodman also called into question how the uncle could have had an opportunity to commit the assaults with two other male cousins in the same room.
"In order to commit the sexual assaults, (he) would have to stealthily and gingerly manoeuvre himself around the other children and not make a sound to avoid waking up the other children," he wrote.
The judge ruled that the uncle is entitled to general damages of $125,000 with costs.
"In my opinion, it is the defendants who singularly and collectively set out on both covert and public course of action to tarnish an innocent man's reputation within and without the large family, as well as in the community at large," Goodman wrote.
"Notwithstanding my judgment, (his) reputation in the community may continue to be irreparably smeared."