Nova Scotia

Former police officer, Halifax-area pastor sentenced for abusing boy 50 years ago

A 75-year-old man who led a Baptist congregation for over 20 years in Lake Echo, N.S., has been sentenced in Ontario to four years in prison for sexually assaulting a boy in the 1960s and 70s. Frank Kohler was a police officer at the time, and the victim's Big Brother.

Frank Kohler to serve four years in prison for sexually abusing a boy in Ontario and Nova Scotia

Frank Kohler was sentenced last month at a courthouse in Brampton, Ont. (CBC)

A 75-year-old man who led a Baptist congregation for over 20 years at a Halifax-area church has been sentenced to four years in prison for sexually assaulting a boy in the 1960s and 70s in Brampton, Ont.

Frank Kohler was a police officer at the time of the abuse, and the victim's mentor through the organization Big Brothers. He later moved to Nova Scotia, and eventually became senior pastor at Lake Echo Fellowship Baptist Church.

"We must recognize that all actions have consequences and we trust the legal system to fulfil its role in civil justice and liberty," Foster MacKenzie, chair of the elders board at the church, said in an email statement.

"The facts of the case are obvious through court records so I will not go any further than to say Frank is not the man he was 50 years ago."

Victim died two years ago

Kohler was sentenced late last month. He had pleaded guilty in December to indecent assault and gross indecency. According to an agreed statement of facts submitted to Ontario Superior Court, Kohler joined the Brampton Police Force in 1966 and was subsequently promoted to drug and youth officer.

He also joined the Big Brothers organization in 1966, and was paired with 10-year old Kevin Dickman, of Brampton. The judge in the case has lifted the publication ban on the name of victim, who died in 2019. 

Kohler admitted he began sexually abusing Dickman in 1967, and engaged in mutual fondling and masturbation with the boy over five years up to 1972.

The abuse took place mainly in Brampton, but also occurred at Kohler's parents' home in Nova Scotia during summer visits they took together. 

The agreed statement of facts said Kohler was "in a position of loco parentis" to Dickman, and that he took the boy on fun activities and trips, including snowmobiling and water-skiing, a trip to Europe, and trips to Nova Scotia every summer for four years. Kohler also coached the boy's hockey team.

Kevin Dickman was sexually abused by Kohler when he was a boy. Dickman later experienced homelessness, addiction and mental health struggles. This photo is from a 2005 CBC story about homelessness in Toronto. (CBC)

An anonymous tip to Big Brothers triggered a sexual misconduct investigation by Brampton police in 1974. 

Kohler admitted the abuse and was allowed to resign from his police position without criminal charges. There are no surviving records of that investigation. 

"This is a tragic set of circumstances, one I would not like to ever see repeated," Chief Nishan Duraiappah of Peel Regional Police said in an email to CBC News. 

Peel Regional Police absorbed the Brampton Police Force in 1974. 

"These shocking events occurred almost a half a century ago and I can say with confidence that this investigation would be handled very differently had these same circumstances occurred in modern policing times," Duraiappah said. 

It was after his resignation that Kohler moved to Nova Scotia. 

According to MacKenzie, the Lake Echo church elder, Kohler worked in a building supply business before assuming his ministerial duties. Kohler was senior pastor of the Lake Echo church for 21 years, before retiring in 2015.

Tragic consequences for victim

Kohler's victim, Dickman, lived a difficult life following the abuse, including struggles with mental illness, addiction and homelessness. 

Social worker Paula Tookey met Dickman in the early 1990s at a Toronto homeless shelter called Street City, and maintained a friendship with him over the years.

She said he was prone to angry outbursts, and it was after one of those, while they were sorting donated clothes together at Street City, that he first revealed his history of sexual abuse.

"He always very strongly stated that he wasn't crazy, that he was traumatized. And most often the answer to that was, 'Take your medication,'" Tookey said. 

Dickman was living at this camp when he spoke with the CBC in 2005 for a story about homelessness in Toronto. He was homeless when he died in 2019. (CBC)

Tookey said they spoke about it many times over the years, and the story was always the same. 

"That his dad died of a medical error, that his mom got him a Big Brother who was also a cop, and that person ended up abusing him sexually," she said. 

"That was kind of the beginning of Kevin's ... I don't want to say downfall, because that isn't really the expression. But it just hurt Kevin in a way that he was never able to overcome."

Paula Tookey was a social worker when she met Dickman in the early 1990s at a homeless shelter. She says the abuse 'hurt Kevin in a way that he was never able to overcome.' (CBC)

Dickman was homeless when he died in 2019. His body was found in the Don River, which runs through downtown Toronto. 

"It's been never determined whether his death was intentional or accidental," Tookey said. 

"And for me, one of the heartbreaking things is that Kevin was found literally in an island of trash. And it seems like an ironic conclusion to his life because he felt like he was trash, like he was disposable and he didn't matter to anyone." 

A phone call, and a confession

It was after Dickman's death that one of his childhood friends, Pam Hand of Brampton, phoned Kohler in Nova Scotia and confronted him about Dickman's death and the abuse he suffered at Kohler's hands. 

This prompted Kohler to confess to Halifax Regional Police and charges to be laid following an investigation in Ontario.

Hand watched the sentencing hearing via Zoom on April 26. "So relieved. I feel like justice has been served for Kevin," she said. 

Dickman shows the CBC his new apartment in 2005. (CBC)

Tookey attended Kohler's sentencing hearing and delivered a victim impact statement on behalf of Dickman. She said she's troubled by some of what Kohler said to the court. 

"He was referring to Kevin as his friend.... Kevin was a prepubescent boy and Frank was a young police officer when they connected.... Frank was obviously not aware at that time of his power and privilege," she said. 

No knowledge of further victims

The elders of the Lake Echo Fellowship Baptist Church, including MacKenzie, sent a letter to the congregation following Kohler's sentencing. 

"Your elders have continued to pray about this situation and are confident that God's hand is in this process and that God has a plan for this season in Frank's life. Please join us to uphold him in this way," they wrote. 

MacKenzie said the vast majority of the congregation continues to support Kohler, due to their Christian belief that he has been reborn in Christ and is a different person than the one who sexually abused a boy decades ago. 

MacKenzie said there are no indications Kohler abused any children in decades with the church. 

"Absolutely not. Absolutely not. There's been no evidence, there's been no reports, no evidence whatsoever," he said. 

Kohler did not respond to a CBC News request for comment through his lawyer.