Scouts Canada issued a blanket apology Thursday to any former scouts who were sexually abused by its volunteer leaders.
The youth organization also announced that it has hired an outside company to review its past records and appointed an expert panel to examine whether its current child protection policies are working.
Steve Kent, the organization's chief commissioner, said in a video and written statement that the organization "sincerely and deeply" apologizes to any and all former scouts who suffered harm at the hands of leaders.
"Our sincere efforts to prevent such crimes have not always succeeded," said Kent, who is also a Newfoundland politician. "We are sorry for that. We are saddened at any resulting harm."
The announcement comes nearly two months after an investigation by CBC-TV's The Fifth Estate found that Scouts Canada kept a "confidential list" of pedophiles barred from the organization and also signed confidentiality agreements with child sex abuse victims.
The investigation revealed that Scouts leaders abused about 340 children from the 1940s until present.
'Too little, too late'
Don Wright, founder of the counselling service B.C. Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse, says such a public apology can be "really important" for victims.
"It'll be very validating for men who have been carrying around the shame and guilt all these years," said Wright. "And it will give them, hopefully, the impetus to finally reach out and get the help they need."
However, for Joey Day, who was abused by a leader in the early 1970s, Scouts Canada's apology was "too little, too late."
"I'm 50 and [the abuse] happened to me between the ages of seven and nine," said Day, who lives in Edmonton.
Day was a B.C. Cub Scout when he was abused by Canadian pedophile Richard Turley. CBC's investigation discovered that Turley used the Scouts organization for years to find boys to molest in California and B.C.
Day says he wants to hear more concrete plans from Scouts Canada, but did see promise in the organization's plan to review its old records.
Scouts Canada has hired consulting firm KPMG to conduct a "thorough, arms-length" review of all the organization's records on the suspension or termination of leaders related to abuse. The review is expected to be completed early in the new year and the results will be made public.
"That is a good thing," Day said. "I'd like to see what they find. It just makes me sick to my stomach."
Robert Talach, a London, Ont.-based lawyer who specializes in child sex abuse cases, was skeptical about the planned review. He called it "fantasy" to expect that a consulting firm could complete a review and write a report by early next year.
"You know what that says to me? Whitewash," said Talach. "This report will not be worth its weight and that's no commentary on KPMG. They're just given mission impossible on too short of a timeline."
Scouts review policies
Scouts Canada is also reviewing its child protection policies to see if they can be strengthened.
'What they also have to do is be prepared to support these men in getting the help they need.' —Don Wright, of the B.C. Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse
Peter Dudding, CEO of the Child Welfare League of Canada, has been asked to lead a third-party panel of experts on youth protection that will review the way the youth organization currently operates.
"The panel will conduct a thorough and complete review of all our policies and procedures and make recommendations on any additional measures to ensure they meet today's realities and, to the best of our ability, that they meet the needs of tomorrow," said Kent.
Under current policies, Scouts Canada requires that its more than 20,000 volunteers undergo criminal record checks, reference checks and a screening interview designed to detect red flags.
A "two-deep rule" requires that two screened, registered leaders be present with youth at all times.
Scouts Canada policies state that any volunteer leader accused of sexual abuse must be immediately suspended. Police and child protection services are then notified of the complaint.
In Kent's statement, he said that to the organization's knowledge, the policies are being followed, but vowed to review its files to "ensure that no exceptions to our approach exist – even in historical examples."
Don Wright says that the organization's review of its policies and records is only a part of what Scouts Canada needs to do in order to take responsibility.
The head of the B.C. Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse suggests the organization needs to take it one step further by offering to pay for sex abuse victims' treatment.
"What they also have to do is be prepared to support these men in getting the help they need," says Wright.
He points to a B.C. government compensation program where anyone abused when they lived in a residential school can qualify for the province to pay for their treatment. Victims don't need to file police reports. They only need to prove they attended the schools.
"It's going to cost [Scouts Canada] a whole lot less [than lawsuits]
and it's going to take the pressure off guys who may not be able to cover therapy on their own."
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