Nfld. & Labrador

Father says son with autism didn't intend to harm woman in St. John's Park

Calvin Flynn's 22-year-old son, who has severe autism, was briefly detained and charged Monday with sexual assault after an incident at Bowring Park.

Son charged with sexual assault, father says incident shows gaps in health-care system

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary was called to Bowring Park in the west end of St. John's around 3:30 p.m. Monday to a report of an assault on a woman. (Mike Moore/CBC)

The alleged victim in this incident has spoken with CBC News. You can read her story here: Woman assaulted in Bowring Park says mental health system failed her and alleged attacker

When Calvin Flynn noticed his son wasn't in the basement of their St. John's home Monday he knew immediately where he'd be — Bowring Park.

Flynn's heart dropped when he soon discovered his 22-year-old son — who has autism and requires the 24-hour care of his two parents — in the back of a police car.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary confirmed Tuesday that a man was charged with sexual assault following an incident at the park around 3:30 p.m. on Monday. The Criminal Code of Canada defines the charge of sexual assault as an assault that is "committed in circumstances of a sexual nature such that the sexual integrity of the victim is violated."

"I know my son loves to hug someone, and I know that if he went to the park without me there with him, if the opportunity arose he was going to hug somebody, and that's exactly what happened," Flynn said.

A woman wrote in a now widely shared post on Facebook that she was sunbathing at Bowring Park when a man jumped on top of her and grabbed at her bikini bottom. She said she cried for help, and he continued to ask for one more hug. The woman spoke with CBC News on Wednesday. 

"I can understand 100 per cent how she felt because my son is a big boy," Flynn said.

Calvin Flynn's son's art covers the walls in their west end St. John's home, including this homage to people with autism. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

Earlier that day, Flynn said he told his son it was too hot to go on their daily walk to the park, which is near their home. He later discovered his son had left alone — something Flynn said has only happened one other time, when his son was a child. 

Flynn commended the RNC officers who responded to the incident for their compassion. He said he was told by one officer that no one was hurt, but the woman wanted to proceed with a sexual assault charge.

"[The officer] said, 'I understand your situation.' So [they] released our son into our custody and we brought him home," Flynn said.

The RNC said they won't comment because the matter is before the courts.

Flynn said his son is not a monster who intended to inflict harm on anyone but a gentle man with a love of painting, flags, eating fast-food and walking in Bowring Park with his dad — something that he can no longer do because of a police order to stay away. 

"I'm sorry this happened. I'm sorry the system failed us, and it bloody well definitely failed her, and I can't take back what happened but I want to tell you my son did not intentionally want to hurt or sexually assault you," he said, addressing the woman.

"He doesn't have the mental capability to ever do something like that. Yesterday, what he did … he has no concept of it."

Flynn said the incident has devastated his family and highlights how people like his son are falling through the cracks and are being failed by the systems meant to protect and care for them. 

Waiting 4 years for psychiatrist

In 2018, the province's Supreme Court made Flynn and his wife their son's legal guardians after the court determined their son's disability left him incapable of making decisions related to his care. They alone provide continuous care in their home. 

Following his son's high school graduation, they packed up and sold their home and belongings on Labrador's south coast in search of better services and programming.

They moved to St. John's so his son could attend a transition program at the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, but Flynn said he was told his son wasn't suited for that program. What followed, he said, has been a series of failed programs and a chronic lack of medical care, adding that he has been waiting four years for his child to see a psychiatrist. 

"I need somebody to prescribe the right medication. I need somebody to help us see a psychiatrist. I need somebody to come in and spend time with him. I need somebody to give my wife a break," Flynn said, through tears.

"I guess I need a health system, a health system for a special needs person who can't speak for themselves."

Flynn's son has a painting room in the family's basement. He says his 22-year-old son has a love of flags, painting and taking walks with his dad. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

Flynn said it weighs on him and his wife daily that their son will likely outlive them. 

"Ten years from now he will be 32. Ten years from then he will be 42. I'll be in a home somewhere. Who is going to take care of him?" he said.

"They're going to fall through the cracks and one of these days society is going to be here with a bunch of adult autistic people with absolutely no help, and then where do we go?"

Flynn spoke through tears as his son could be heard downstairs, unaware of how deeply Monday's incident has shaken those around him. His son doesn't know that in the weeks to follow he will be fingerprinted, said Flynn, and that his case will be called in a provincial court room in the coming months.

"There's hundreds of people in my son's predicament. It was his turn yesterday. Tomorrow it's going to be somebody else's turn," Flynn said.

"It's going to be a news clip for one of the media outlets. And after that is forgotten until the next time it happens. And if me sitting here crying and saying what I got to say helped somebody … it was worth it."

Case could be dropped 'due to diminished capacity'

In an email answering questions from CBC News, Lloyd Strickland, director of public prosecutions, said the Crown decides to prosecute after assessing the evidence and determining "whether there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction and whether it is in the public interest to prosecute."

The Supreme Court documents provided to CBC News by the Flynn family detail the man's diminished mental capacity.

Strickland said it is possible the Crown decides not to proceed because of that, but the Crown attorney "is not likely to have sufficient information in their possession to properly assess the mental capacity of an accused at the moment an offence was allegedly committed."

If a person is deemed unfit to stand trial due to diminished capacity, said Strickland, they will be referred to the provincial Mental Health Review Board. That panel would determine if the person should be detained in hospital or another non-custodial option. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Ariana Kelland

Investigative reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's. She is working as a member of CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit. Email: