Scouts Canada's recent decision not to enforce confidentiality clauses signed with sex-assault victims could spark a conversation and help relieve some of the "shame and secrecy" many victims have been living with for years, says an Ontario man who says he was abused by a scout leader.

But Terry Gillespie, who is making his identity public for the first time, says victims of sexual assault shouldn't have to deal with the limits of a confidentiality agreement if they want to speak about their experience.

Gillespie grew up in Guelph, Ont., where he was a member of a local scout troop. He said he was repeatedly assaulted by his scout leader over the course of a year, beginning when he was 14.

Decades later, when he was in his 40s, Gillespie confronted the organization about what had happened. He was offered money, conditional on his silence.

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"In a sense, you are revictimized," Gillespie, now 59, told CBC News. "You become the isolated person who has to not tell anybody what the most important thing in your life is."

The confidentiality agreement didn't prevent Gillespie from going to authorities or telling his family, but he couldn't talk publicly about what happened. The existence of the deal and the facts of what happened to him were to be kept confidential.

Gillespie had previously appeared on CBC's The National, but his figure was blacked out to conceal his identity.

However, he agreed to speak out and reveal his identity after Scouts Canada's chief commissioner, Steve Kent, said last week the organization was willing to lift the confidentiality clauses contained in some of the out-of-court settlements reached with victims of abuse. 

'Freedom to speak as I wish'

Gillespie said he never thought he would see the day he would be allowed to speak freely: "It means freedom to speak as I wish — should I choose to speak — or not speak."

Kent said in an interview Scouts Canada wants to do "to the best extent possible what we can to allow victims to tell their stories."


Scouts Canada's chief commissioner, Steve Kent, said the organization was willing to lift confidentiality clauses contained in some out-of-court settlements reached with victims of abuse. (CBC)

"There has been a victim who has told their story on one of your newscasts," Kent said. "We have not taken any action — we don’t intend to take any action."

While Scouts Canada has committed to helping people who signed agreements get released from them, hurdles remain. For instance, Scouts Canada can't single-handedly lift the clause if there are third parties involved in the agreement.

Scouts Canada told CBC News the organization has signed out-of-court settlements in more than two dozen cases, though not all of the cases involved confidentiality clauses.

"I think the most important thing is, it's not just me, it's everyone," Gillespie said of the decision to allow victims to tell their stories.

"That means there can be a conversation about this and about what it addresses, and that the secret part of the isolation — shame and secrecy — is not a factor anymore."

Scouts Canada offered a sweeping apology Dec. 8 to former scouts who were sexually abused by leaders.

The organization also said an expert panel would be brought in to examine its child-protection policies, and consulting firm KPMG has been brought in to comb through decades of records of suspected or alleged sex abuses.

Gillespie said he would like to mount a campaign urging politicians to make it illegal to ask for a confidentiality clause in sexual-assault cases if the victim doesn't want it.

He hasn't yet formed a firm plan of action, but he hopes to see change in how confidentiality agreements are used.

"At a very basic level, children who have been abused should never have to face a piece of paper like that."

With files from CBC's Diana Swain and Amber Hildebrandt