Manitoba

Former Winnipeg pediatrician found not guilty of incest, indecent assault

Family members voiced surprise Tuesday as a former Winnipeg pediatrician accused of repeatedly molesting his son decades ago was cleared by the Court of Queen's Bench on all charges.

Victor Chernick was arrested in 2013 after his son accused him of abuse

Victor Chernick, a former renowned pediatrician in Winnipeg, walks out of court with his wife after being acquitted of all charges. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Family members voiced surprise Tuesday as a former Winnipeg pediatrician accused of repeatedly molesting his son decades ago was cleared by the Court of Queen's Bench on all charges.

Victor Chernick was found not guilty Tuesday of sexually assaulting his son, Richard Chernick, who testified his father abused him about 100 times from 1975-79, when he was a teenager.

"It's a wrong decision. I don't know what else to say," Richard said minutes after the verdict was read out at the Winnipeg Law Courts. "He's guilty."

Chernick, in his 80s, did not answer any questions as he walked out of Winnipeg's Law Courts Building, hand-in-hand with his wife.

"He's obviously pleased with the verdict," defence attorney Roberta Campbell said as she trailed behind her client. "He's maintained his innocence all along."

Victor Chernick was the chief pediatrician at Winnipeg's Children's Hospital and head of the University of Manitoba's department of pediatrics in the 1970s. (Winnipeg Children's Hospital Pictorial Archive)

Justice Joan McKelvey found Chernick, a prominent medical practitioner and scholar, "relatively credible" in his adamant denials that he would ever commit such "repugnant" acts against his son.

Meanwhile, she found discrepancies in the Crown's case that she could not overlook.

Money issues

In her decision, she mentioned the defence's contention that Richard's accusations were motivated by money. 

"He indicated he wanted to put his father in jail and 'take everything they owned and to hold his mother responsible as well,' " McKelvey said in her written decision following the trial, which did not have a jury.

Richard had also said his pending civil lawsuit would be a "walk in the park" if the criminal allegations were proven, the judge said.

McKelvey also expressed concern about Richard's inability to recall a meeting at a downtown Winnipeg hotel where his father allegedly confessed to the abuse.

The testimony of Robin Tyler, an estranged family member who said she flew from California decades ago to get to the bottom of the allegations against her brother, also was a source of concern for McKelvey. Neither Victor nor Richard Chernick could recall the meeting, they testified.

Tyler told the court she spoke to the FBI in 1991 about sexual allegations against Victor raised by his daughter, Sharon Chernick, but Tyler told the FBI nothing about Richard's claims, despite reportedly being aware of them. 

McKelvey doubted Tyler's argument that her memory improved over time. 

Previous admissions disputed

The Crown also said Victor made another confession, at the family cabin.

Richard's wife testified she was "shocked" by the admission, even though she said she'd previously heard a confession in front of psychologists, which McKelvey found troubling.

The justice said she couldn't ignore these contradictions.

"This was one of those cases that poses as a significant danger in entering convictions after a careful consideration of all the evidence. There were … inconsistencies and reliability concerns," McKelvey said.

"It was difficult to firmly decide whom to believe."

McKelvey acknowledged the case laid bare a dysfunctional and splintered family.

Before the verdict was read out, a half-dozen people supporting Richard left their seats and walked to the other end of the courtroom, separating themselves from the three individuals supporting Victor, including his wife, Richard's mother.  

After the acquittal, Richard said it's time to move on with his life.

"I just want to put this all behind me. … I think I did that a year ago. I wasn't even sure if I'd come today, but I did."

Sharon Chernick, Richard's sister, speaks outside the courtroom. (Warren Kay/CBC)

"I'm finding it very hard," said his sister Sharon Chernick, who is party to Richard's civil suit against their father, alleging he also abused her. "I'll never put it behind me."

Richard doesn't expect to continue with his civil lawsuit, he said. 

Victor Chernick was the chief pediatrician at Winnipeg's Children's Hospital and head of the University of Manitoba's department of pediatrics in the 1970s.

He was arrested in 2013 on charges of incest, indecent assault, buggery and two counts of gross indecency after his son made the accusations.

Richard recounted at least four instances of sexual abuse during his mid- to late teens in graphic detail, including one case where he said his mother walked in on them. 

Richard waived the ban that typically applies to identifying victims in trials involving such sexual allegations.

Chernick was charged in 1991 with a number of sexual offences involving a minor. The charges were stayed in 1993 after the complainant recanted earlier testimony.

Victor Chernick found not guilty of incest, indecent assault

3 years ago
1:18
A former Winnipeg pediatrician accused of repeatedly molesting his son decades ago was cleared by the Court of Queen's Bench on all charges. 1:18

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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