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A plebiscite on renaming the Cap-Pelé arena will be held on May 14. (Marc Genuist/CBC)

A coastal village in southeastern New Brunswick will hold a plebiscite to decide whether its arena should still be named after a priest who has been accused of sexually assaulting children.

Camille Léger died in 1990, but several people in Cap-Pelé are now alleging he abused children in the community when he worked there between 1957 and 1980.

Léger was never charged with any crimes and up until now has been considered a pillar of the community who was involved with youth through hockey and the Boy Scouts.

The issue of changing the name of Aréna Père-Camille-Léger to Aréna de Cap-Pelé has left the community divided, said Deputy Mayor Hector Doiron.

"That was one of the main reasons we wanted to go public in a plebiscite," he said, referring to council's decision to put the question of renaming the arena after 25 years to a vote during the May 14 municipal elections.

"Some people will think Father Léger has done a lot of great things for Cap-Pelé."

Councillor claims abuse

Coun. Norbet Gaudet, who says he was one of Léger’s victims, is one of the people calling for the name change.

"We have a black cloud that is on top of Cap-Pelé and we want that cloud to go out and let the sun come in," he said.

Gaudet claims he was 13 years old when Léger started abusing him.

"He would take three of us on a trip, and we'd have one hotel room with two double beds," he said in French. "Two of us slept in one bed, and the other with him. That was his system."

Gaudet claims he’s met dozens of men over the years who say they were also assaulted by the former priest of the Ste Therese d'Avila Roman Catholic parish.

"I can’t tell you the exact number, but it’s a lot," said Gaudet.

'I don't like to look at the name and even the picture there is of [Léger]. I don't want to see that. It brings back memories and I don't need that.'— Coun. Norbert Gaudet

"I don’t have enough fingers on my hand and enough toes on my feet. It’s too much."

But people never talked about it, said Gaudet.

"Back then, the priest [had] an awful power on the public," he said.

Even after Léger's death, people were afraid, he said.

"One on one I was talking with people, maybe 10 years ago, that the name shouldn’t be there and a lot of people were telling me ‘Don’t start that, leave that aside, there’s no need to bring that back.'

"We kept that inside us and now I think it’s time, the more I get older it seems like the more I get mad at it."

Gaudet said he doesn't want to be reminded of what happened to him every time he goes to the arena to watch his grandson play hockey.

"I don't like to look at the name and even the picture there is of [Léger]. I don't want to see that. It brings back memories and I don't need that."

Bobby Vautour, another alleged victim, agrees.

"It's a nice arena, but when you go in you get a bad feeling because his portrait is there, and his name is on the arena," Vautour said in French. "The parish did good things for us, but it also did a lot of damage."

Mixed views

The reaction of area residents CBC news spoke to on Thursday was mixed.

"What happened, it shouldn't happen, so I believe a change will be good for the citizens around Cap-Pelé," said Mary Boudreau, who has lived in the village for all of her 50 years.

Therese Cormier said authorities at the time didn't deal with the problem as they should have.

"Everybody's got their opinion on it, we have to respect that. But things has to be done for, to make the peace and let those victims live the way they want," she said.

Alex Cormier said he isn't sure what to think.

"I was in [scouts] for eight years with Father Léger. Never did he ever approach me or anything like that. So really I can't really say that he didn't do it, but I can't say he did do it."

Gaudet said he would have preferred that council had made a decision on the renaming. But he's willing to live with the results of the plebiscite.

"I hope that when it's done that the people will vote the right way to take the name off."

A plebiscite vote must have 60 per cent to pass.

This is the second confirmed plebiscite that will be held on May 14.

Grand Manan is asking its citizens whether they want the village council to ask the provincial government to remove the fares on the ferry that connects the island to the mainland.

Grand Manan Mayor Dennis Greene said on Wednesday he thinks the vote will be close.