More than a dozen men who say they are victims of sexual abuse at the hands of a former priest and boy scout leader in northwestern Ontario are pursuing criminal charges. But it’s not clear whether they will proceed to court.
The men said they were abused by Ralph Rowe, who lived and travelled in remote First Nations during the 1970s and 80s. The 72-year-old has already been convicted of more than 50 counts of sex-related crimes. His lawyer made a deal when Rowe pleaded guilty to some of those crimes back in 1994, so that Rowe wouldn't be sent to jail again on similar charges. But other men continue to come forward regularly with fresh allegations.
'This guy is walking around free ...' —36-year-old man who CBC News agreed not to identify
"This guy is walking around free, you know what I mean, while we’ve suffered through our lives," said a 36-year-old man who CBC News agreed not to identify over concerns his remarks could influence any future court case.
"He’s done a little time, but it’s nothing compared to the damage he’s done. People tell me, ‘why don’t you forgive [Rowe].’ I can’t, because I can’t forgive myself for the things I’ve done. I’ve served time since I was eight years old with the damage he’s done. It’s a horrible thing what he did. I live with it every day."
A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office in Ontario told CBC "the Crown has not made a decision with respect to prosecuting any future charges" against Rowe.
‘For the men’s sake, they want their day in court’
But a retired O.P.P. officer who works with the victims said some of the men who have made new allegations against Rowe have already received letters from the Crown saying the charges won’t be pursued in court.
"Their [criminal court] option is closed off somewhat because of an agreement that the crown attorney and Mr. Rowe’s lawyer made back in 1994," Don Hewitt said.
Rowe was convicted of 29 counts of sex-related crimes against 16 victims in 1994. CBC News obtained the April 1994 letter from assistant crown attorney John O’Hallaran to Rowe’s then-lawyer Robert Young.
"I have no further authority to bind the Crown not to proceed on any future, similar allegation," O’Hallaran wrote.
"I do, however, make the representation that if substantially similar allegations against your client arise in the future in the Kenora District that those matters will be dealt with by way of concurrent sentences."
The letter has been used in sentencing decisions in subsequent criminal convictions against Rowe in 2005 and 2009.
Hewitt said it’s not unusual for victims of sexual abuse to take years to come forward. A total of 130 men have already been identified by a support group funded by the Attorney General as victims of Rowe. Hewitt said new men ask for help from the group each week and he expects that to continue for years to come. He said the court process is an important part of their healing.
"For the men’s sake, they want their day in court, because that’s really their first vindication when they hear the judge pronounce a sentence of guilty, that anyone has really believed them."