An inquiry into the handling of allegations of widespread sexual abuse in Cornwall, Ont., is withholding important informationand eroding public confidence in the process, says a journalist covering the hearings.
Terri Saunders, a reporter with the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder newspaper, is among the journalists calling for the release of more informationfrom the inquiry, which has withheld some evidence from the news media and imposed a number of bans on what they can publish.
'The more you try to hide things away â¦ the further away you get from being a truly public inquiry.' -Journalist Terry Saunders
The inquiry, whichstarted in February,is examining the response of authorities to accusations made over decades that clergy members, police officers and other prominent members of the southeastern Ontario community sexually abused dozens of local children.
It was called after a four-year Ontario Provincial Police investigation laid 114 criminal sex-related charges against 15 men from the area between 1997 and 2001 — but resulted in only one conviction. The investigation, dubbed Project Truth, attracted national attention, with some people alleging a cover-up while others said the reputations of innocent peoplewere smeared by wild rumours and conspiracy theories.
Saunders said the news media needs access towithheld evidencein order live up to its responsibility as the eyes and ears of the public and to ensure the process is open.
"So far, I think public confidence in that is diminishing daily," Saunders said.
"The more you try to hide things away—the more you try to protect information from the public— the further away you get from being a truly public inquiry," she added.
Some of the inaccessible information includes critical evidence.
For example, on Tuesday, thoseattending the hearinglistened as victim Albert Roy took the stand and explained how, at age 16, he was abused by his probation officer.
Lawyers are expected to enter numerous police and government documents about what was done to stop the man from committing more crimes against young boys— but neither the media nor the public willsee what is in them.
Pierre Dumais, a lawyer for the commission supervising the inquiry, said there is a good reason for that.
"A lot of these exhibits contain confidential information," he said.
Victims' identities 'central': lawyer
Some news media, including the CBC, have expressed concern that even important information cannot be released because of the large number of publication bans in place.
Tony Wong, a lawyer for the CBC, argued in a submission to the inquiry that the bans protecting the identities of the victims are too broad, considering how important it is to know who the victims are in order to achieve the inquiry's goals.
"Knowing who the victims are is central to determining how and where the gaps exist and where resources — both monetary and otherwise — should be directed," the submission said. It added that the disclosure sometimes helps the victims heal.
The submission requests that publication bans not be imposed on the identities of victims who have already been identified in public, who have told the media or commissioner that they agree to be identified, or are deceased.
Justice Normand Glaude, the commissioner presiding over the inquiry, is expected to rule next week on a number of motions concerning the release of information, including the identities of victims.
The second phase of the inquiry, which involves testimony from the alleged victims, started in the fall.