Snook sex abuse inquiry unlikely, says child advocate
Norm Bossé says other groups may probe case of former Saint John councillor Donnie Snook
New Brunswick's child and youth advocate does not believe there will be a public inquiry into the sex abuse case of former Saint John councillor Donnie Snook.
Norm Bossé, who represented victims of notorious child abuser Karl Toft at the Kingsclear inquiry, says Snook's sentencing hearing last week on 46 charges involving 17 boys reminded him of Toft's case.
But Toft, a guard at the Kingsclear Youth Training Centre near Fredericton, was a government employee, said Bossé.
"The government in that case had almost no choice but to say, 'Whoa, there was systemic breakdown in our systems in housing youth offenders in a situation where they were going to be abused," he said.
Bossé told CBC News it does sound like some of Snook's crimes could have been prevented and he does question whether someone failed to do their job. But he doesn't have the power to call for a public inquiry.
And while he does have broad power to investigate, his findings would not be made public, in accordance with the Child and Youth Advocate Act.
Still, Bossé does not rule out Snook investigations by other groups.
"There are institutions such as the Salvation Army or the church that [Snook] worked for in Fredericton who may be looking behind the scenes and saying, 'OK, what happened here?' They may be doing their own investigations, I don't know," he said.
Lawsuits provide transparency
The Crown and Department of Social Development may also look into a complaint raised during last week's hearing by a mother, who said she approached them about her concerns about Snook's behaviour with her son, but no charges were laid, said Bossé.
"That's difficult for the victims who think, 'Had he been apprehended, I wouldn't have been abused," he said.
"To get to the very bottom of it all … to find out what happened, is difficult."
Bossé believes the best way to get answers and transparency is through a civil lawsuit.
"I can't imagine, that with 17 victims, somebody won't take up the mantle or the gauntlet and say, 'OK, I'm going to sue.' They may sue him personally. They may sue the Salvation Army, or the government, we don't know. But it's in that process that we'll get more information," he said.
'The whole community is suffering'
It's not clear whether any of Snook's victims have the strength to launch a lawsuit. Crown prosecutor Karen Lee Lamrock has said very few of them provided victim impact statements for sentencing purposes and most are not involved in any kind of counselling.
Private counsellor Nancy Cusack believes Snook's victims could benefit from therapy when they're ready.
She says parents and teachers could set an example by admitting they've also been hurt and by getting help.
"The whole community is suffering, along with these kids," said Cusack. "So if the parents recognize it and even family members. I know a lot of times, people who suffer trauma the most are the people who didn't actually go through it, it's the people who have witnessed it."
The City of Saint John is currently offering unlimited confidential counselling services to the sexual assault victims of a former police officer, the late Ken Estabrooks.
Estabrooks, a former sergeant, was convicted in the late 1990s of abusing children decades earlier, while he was a police officer.
In 1975, Estabrooks had admitted to sexually abusing children, but he wasn't charged or fired. Instead, he was transferred into the city works department.
It's unclear what kind of services have been offered to Snook's victims. One father told CBC News his child was offered 20 counselling sessions, but the family didn't trust the counsellor because that person was working for the Department of Justice.
Snook, 41, pleaded guilty in May to 46 charges dating back to 2001 involving 17 boys as young as five years old.
The charges against the former youth ministry leader include sexual assault, sexually touching a minor while in a position of trust, making child pornography and extortion.
It is one of the biggest sex abuse cases in New Brunswick's history, rivaling that of Toft, who was convicted in 1992 of 34 abuse charges involving 18 boys.
Snook is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 10.