At least two lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of Canada over a scout leader who molested dozens of boys in northern Ontario and Manitoba First Nations communities have been quietly settled out of court, CBC News has learned.

The civil suits pertain to Ralph Rowe, a former Anglican priest, pilot and Scoutmaster. He’s one of Canada’s most prolific pedophiles, but not well known outside of the northern communities where he used his positions of authority to prey on boys.

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Ralph Rowe molested dozens of boys in northern communities in Manitoba and Ontario. (Kenora Daily Miner and News)

Investigators suspect Rowe molested more than a 100 victims over the years, while mental health authorities in the north say the tally could be as high as 500.

The two settlement agreements contain confidentiality clauses that prevent the plaintiffs from publicly discussing the settlement amount.

A CBC investigation uncovered 13 civil cases against Scouts Canada across the country, including the two related to Rowe, where out-of-court settlements involving confidentiality clauses were signed. In at least one case, the victim is forbidden from discussing any details about the abuse.

The two lawsuits related to Rowe, filed by 39 plaintiffs in total, are among the largest.

Rowe joined the Scouts in the ‘50s and spent decades with the movement.

Rowe has been convicted of more than 50 charges of child sex abuse that happened during the 1970s and ‘80s, when he was an Anglican priest flying into First Nations to conduct church services, organize youth groups and lead Boy Scout outings.

The Rowe-related lawsuit settlements don’t forbid victims from speaking about the abuse they suffered, only the amount of money they received.

Victims feel silenced

Rob Talach, a London, Ont.,-based lawyer who specializes in child sex-abuse cases, says confidentiality agreements protect the institution and the perpetrator.

"It does nothing for victims in general and really harms society in the long run," he says.

Talach says victims feel forced to sign the confidentiality agreements at the end of a difficult road through the court system.

Rowe has been convicted of more than 50 charges of child sex abuse that happened during the 1970s and ‘80s, when he was an Anglican priest flying into First Nations to conduct church services, organize youth groups and lead Boy Scout outings.

Rowe joined the Scouts in the ‘50s and spent decades with the movement.

But CBC’s Jody Porter in Thunder Bay says that victims she spoke to largely interpreted the agreements to mean that they can’t talk about anything relating to the case, including the abuse.

About 20 men plan to meet this week in Thunder Bay to prepare for new set of criminal allegations against Rowe. They, too, have been told not to discuss their case in public, in case their words could be used against them in court.

Porter said some victims feel the imposed silence continues to send the message that there’s something to be ashamed about and also makes it more difficult to heal.

Pain haunts community

Ralph Winter, who was allegedly abused by Rowe as a teenager in the early ‘80s, is one of the few who can speak freely about his allegations because he’s never gone to civil or criminal court.

But even so, Winter says speaking out is hard. Winter said it felt physically painful when he first told a gathering in Kenora, Ont., five years ago about the abuse.

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Split Lake, Man., is one of the many northern communities where Rowe abused boys. ((CBC))

"It was hard talking about it before but I knew I had to keep talking about it and keep bringing up what happened to me and how it affected my life," said Winter.

Winter works as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor in northern Ontario’s Wunnumin Lake First Nation, one of the communities where Rowe molested many boys.

Rowe started several scouting groups in the Wunnumin Lake community. He abused boys on scout camping trips, church outings, at his cabin and even at an out-of-province Scout jamboree.

In northern Manitoba’s Split Lake community, where Rowe also molested many boys, no victims were willing to speak about the abuse.

But Ernest Spence, who lives there but was not a victim, says the pain of the abuse continues to haunt the community.

"This really hurt a lot of people," he says. "People started sniffing to forget the past. It changed the personality of most of my friends."

"He was a priest and I trusted him and he was a likeable person," said Spence, who was nine years old when Rowe started a scout troop in Split Lake. "He was a pilot too. He used to give us rides and all that, show us slides at his house."

But soon Spence says he witnessed questionable goings-on, such as "taking off his clothes and telling us it was natural [and] showers. He wanted to have showers all the time."

Convicted in 1980s

In 1988, Rowe was convicted of 10 counts of sexual abuse and buggery relating to his time in Split Lake. It was just one of a set of criminal charges, totaling over 50, that were laid against Rowe over the years.

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Ernest Spence says many people in his community, Split Lake, Man., trusted Rowe because he was a priest and Scoutmaster. ((CBC))

In 1994, Rowe pleaded guilty to 26 sex-related charges against more than a dozen boys in Ontario. In 2007 and 2009, he was found guilty of similar charges.

Among the allegations in the lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of Canada is that the organization failed to make appropriate inquiries that would have revealed earlier allegations of sexual misconduct. Boy Scouts denied all the allegations made in the statement of claim.

Though victims named in the civil lawsuits wouldn’t speak, the court documents reveal that many of them say they’ve been plagued by drug and alcohol dependencies, failed marriages and suicide attempts. Some have even struggled with sexually deviant behaviour themselves.

If you have more information on this story, or other investigative tips, please email investigations@cbc.ca