Mother shares tale of her son's life, shattered by sexual abuse at hands of Westmount coach

A judge choked back tears as Ruth Ellis recounted her son Doug's "journey through hell" after being abused by a longtime Westmount parks and recreation employee and peewee hockey coach, John Garland.

With settlement pending, Ruth Ellis describes son's downward spiral after having John Garland as hockey coach

Ruth Ellis, holding her son's Doug's hockey sweater. (CBC)

As a young boy, ​Doug Ellis showed those early flashes of brilliance on the ice that catch the attention of NHL scouts.

But as he was setting scoring records playing peewee hockey in Westmount, Doug began a downward spiral from which he was never able to recover. 
Doug Ellis, seen here in his Westmount peewee hockey days, never recovered from the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his coach, John Garland, his mother said. (Submitted by Tori Riley)

That "33-year journey into hell," as his mother described it in a Montreal courtroom on Monday, included depression, recurring trips to psychiatric wards, electroshock therapy and a stint in Ontario's Millbrook Correctional Centre.

Doug Ellis died in 2015, at the age of 45, of complications from the medications he was on to treat his psychiatric illness.

There is no question in Ruth Ellis's mind about what precipitated her son's troubles: it was having John Garland as his hockey coach.

"In my mind, it all started with Johnny Garland and ended with Johnny Garland," she said.

Garland, who died in 2012, was a fixture in Westmount for decades. He worked in the upscale municipality's parks and recreation department between 1953 and 1987, along with coaching its peewee hockey teams.

It all started with Johnny Garland and ended with Johnny Garland.- Ruth Ellis, mother of Doug Ellis, who died in 2015

But in 2015, Matthew Bissonette — one of Garland's former players — filed a lawsuit in Quebec Superior Court, claiming Westmount officials turned a blind eye to complaints that Garland was sexually abusing young boys. 

Earlier this year, the city reached a settlement with Bissonette and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The parties were in court Monday providing a judge with details of the settlement. If the judge approves, each claimant will be eligible for a $100,000 payment.

So far, at least 15 victims have come forward, including Ellis and Bissonette. 

John Garland, left, died in 2012, three years before the death of his former peewee hockey player Doug Ellis, right. Ellis's mother blames her son's lifelong struggles on the sexual abuse he suffered as a preteen at Garland's hands. (submitted by Tori Riley)

A life shattered

As part of Monday's court hearing, Ellis delivered a victim impact statement in which she detailed the effects of the abuse her son suffered.

"I've waited a long time to find an opportunity to be Doug's voice, to express the kind of child he was and then the devastating change that overtook him at a very young age," she said.

She described her son as a "free spirit" who was absorbed by sports at a young age. He skated with a grace that made some coaches emotional, she said. The family was approached by scouts for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But after returning from a hockey tournament in Finland and Sweden, Doug began to show signs of deep distress. He wet his bed, fought with his brother, then started taking drugs. 

"Mom, please help me," Ellis remembered him saying at one point. 

Doug Ellis died just shy of his 46th birthday, in September 2015. His mother, Ruth Ellis, said her son never recovered from the sexual abuse he suffered as a peewee hockey player in Westmount. (submitted by Tori Riley)

As Doug's substance-abuse problem grew worse, he resorted to ever more desperate measures to obtain drugs. He robbed a bank, only to be caught and sentenced to two years less a day in jail. 

He attended his grandfather's funeral shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit. He was unemployable upon his release, Ellis said.

"Mother, what have I done with my life?" he asked her.

As Doug careened from crisis to crisis, his mother was oblivious to what was eating him inside. Then, not long before he died, Doug called his mother, telling her that he had been abused by Garland.

"It all fell into place and finally made sense," Ellis told the court. 

Her statement left Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc De Wever visibly moved. 

"What was said and heard by this court stands on its own," De Wever said, as he choked back tears.

"I wish I had the proper words ... "

Thanks for doing the 'right thing'

Of the victims who have come forward, both Ellis and Bissonette have expressed their appreciation with how Westmount has handled the lawsuit. 

Bissonette, who is now a Hollywood film director, thanked the city "for doing the right thing" in his statement to the court.
Matthew Bissonnette, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, thanked Westmount for its handling of the allegations. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

Westmount opted to forego challenging the plaintiffs' claims in court and instead conducted its own investigation into the allegations.

The city has also created a confidential process for other victims to come forward and claim their share of the settlement.

De Wever is expected to deliver a written decision about the settlement in the coming days.