Cornwall sex-abuse scandal spawns hearings, healing

The Cornwall Public Inquiry spent three years looking at how public institutions responded to allegations that dozens of the community's children and teenagers were sexually abused by adults in positions of trust and authority. Its final report was released on Dec. 15.
The inquiry heard its final witness on Jan. 29, 2009, and released its final report on Dec. 15. ((Emily Chung/CBC))
In 1992, a man came forward to say he had been sexually abused by a priest and a probation officer while he was an altar boy in Cornwall, Ont. The local Roman Catholic diocese offered the man $32,000 in return for dropping the complaint he had filed with police.

A local police officer blew the whistle on that coverup, unleashing a flood of other child sexual abuse complaints and a chain of events that would eventually lead the Ontario government to call a public inquiry.

The $53-million Cornwall Public Inquiry's final report was released Tuesday, Dec. 15, after several delays.

The four hefty volumes — the thickest and heaviest more than 1,600 pages long — examined in detail how public institutions like police, the local Catholic diocese and Children's Aid Society dealt with widespread allegations of sexual against priests, probation officers, lawyers and other men in positions of power and trust in the community.

"I find there were systematic failures in the response of institutions to allegation of sexual abuse of children and young people in this community," said Normand Glaude, commissioner for the inquiry, in a statement accompanying the report.

"For some, this resulted in revictimization by the institution from whom they sought help. The response of institutions became a further source of harm."

He recommended hundreds of changes to ensure similar situations are prevented as much as possible, and dealt with more sensitively and appropriately in the future.

Many hoped the report would allow the community to put the decades-old sex abuse scandal behind it and move on.

In the years that followed the intial 1992 complaint, dozens of people in the eastern Ontario community came forward with allegations that they were abused as children and teenagers. The allegations go back to the late 1950s, and there were even claims that children were passed from one abuser to another by a ring of pedophiles.

A number of police investigations were launched by various Ontario police forces, including the high profile Ontario Provincial Police probe Project Truth. Dozens of charges were laid in that investigation.

In the end, police said they found no evidence of a pedophile ring. Many of the accused had their charges stayed due to court delays, some committed suicide, some died of natural causes and a few were punished with significant jail time.

Meanwhile, there were nagging questions about the roles of the institutions that backed the men and took part in the investigation. Some were accused of dealing poorly with the situation, acting inappropriately or helping the alleged abusers avoid serious consequences.

Premier's promise

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty promised to launch a public inquiry after the last Project Truth court case wrapped up, and went on to establish the Cornwall Public Inquiry on April 14, 2005, with two main goals:

  • To hold public hearings into events surrounding allegations of abuse of young people in Cornwall, to examine the response of the justice system and other public institutions to the allegations, and to make recommendations.
  • To work with residents of Cornwall to facilitate healing and reconciliation within the community.
The day after the release of Glaude's report, Premier Dalton McGuinty said it was a "good question" whether the inquiry needed to cost so much.
Justice G. Normand Glaude, regional senior judge for the Northeast Region of Ontario, was asked to chair the inquiry, which opened on Feb. 13, 2006.

After more than 300 hearing days spread over three years, the inquiry heard from more than 170 witnesses, accepted 3,400 exhibits of evidence and generated 60,000 pages of transcripts.

About 400 people received provincially funded counselling as a result of the inquiry. Two-thirds of them were victims or alleged victims, both male and female, and the others were people who dealt with victims. Heather McIntosh, the psychologist who oversaw that counselling, said some "amazing transformations" resulted.

When Glaude launched the inquiry, he said it would be a "lengthy and sometimes difficult process."

Lengthy and difficult

It proved to be lengthier and more difficult than many anticipated.

From the beginning, the inquiry was bogged down with court challenges and motions that put witness testimony on hold time and again, delaying and dragging out the proceedings as lawyers for some of the institutions and the accused fought to withhold evidence and the identities of some of the accused.

Those challenges, along with other publication bans, led members of the media to accuse the inquiry of not being "truly public."

By November 2006, more than a dozen motions had tied up the proceedings — far more than the one or two brought forward in previous provincial inquiries.

Another major setback came in September 2007, when a key witness refused to testify.

Former Cornwall police officer Perry Dunlop overheard some police sergeants discussing the local Catholic diocese's payment to the former altar boy in 1993. Dunlop took the sexual abuse complaint to the Children's Aid Society against orders from superiors, leading to an OPP investigation and eventually the public inquiry.

Dunlop, who says he and his family were subjected to harassment and death threats, twice refused to testify at the inquiry, saying he believed it was not about finding the truth and he had lost faith in a justice system that treated him as a bad guy.

Stonewalling witness jailed

Glaude ruled that Dunlop had no good legal reason to refuse testimony and he was eventually convicted of both criminal and civil contempt of court, serving seven months in jail.

The commission was also criticized by those who said they had been sexually abused. They complained about the way they were questioned by lawyers while on the witness stand. After one witness stormed off during cross-examination, Engelmann reminded lawyers that an inquiry is not a trial.

The inquiry heard its final witness on Jan. 29, 2009: Murray Segal, Ontario's deputy attorney general.

Months later, when delivering his final report, Glaude made no pronouncement about whether a pedophile ring existed, but acknowledged he heard evidence suggesting there were cases of joint abuse and the passing of victims from one abuser to another.

Among Glaude's recommendations were that the local Catholic diocese, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the local school boards should consider making public apologies to victims of child abuse in Cornwall.

After Glaude spoke, Paul André Durocher, bishop of the diocese of Alexandria Cornwall, carried out his recommendation and apologized.

Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley said Glaude's report gave a voice to the local community and victims of abuse, and Glaude found the conclusions that were to be found, even if they weren't necessarily what people were looking for.

Dallas Lee, a lawyer representing about 50 people who said they were sexually abused in the eastern Ontario city, said the reaction he heard to the findings and recommendations of the Cornwall Public Inquiry was "rather positive" and he hoped the report would help local residents "turn the page."

However, some still questioned whether the $53-million inquiry was worth it.

The day after the release of Glaude's report, McGuinty said it was a "good question" whether the inquiry needed to cost so much. He noted that the Ontario government has changed legislation to give it more authority to limit the scope of future inquiries and keep costs down.

The changes went into effect the day the Cornwall Inquiry report was released.