Thunder Bay·In Depth

Survivors of ex-priest pedophile say he deserves more prison time

Male survivors of Ralph Rowe, one of Canada's most prolific pedophiles, met in Thunder Bay, Ont., this week to see a new documentary about the former Anglican priest and boy scout leader who caused them so much pain.

Ex-Anglican priest, scoutmaster spent about 5 years in prison after abuses on Ontario First Nations

George Aquila Williams says his life is back on track now after 20 years of suffering the effects of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of former Anglican priest Ralph Rowe. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Male survivors of Ralph Rowe, one of Canada's most prolific pedophiles, met in Thunder Bay, Ont., this week to see a new documentary about the former Anglican priest and boy scout leader who caused them so much pain.

Survivors Rowe tells the story of three of the estimated 500 victims who fell under the spell of the charismatic priest who flew his own plane into remote First Nations in northwestern Ontario in the 1970s and '80s.

Other survivors who saw the documentary on Saturday said the film, directed by Daniel Roher, and the discussion around it will help with their healing, but they continue to seek justice for Rowe's crimes.

About 200 people watched the documentary Survivors Rowe at a special screening in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Saturday. It'll be shown again at Lakehead University on Monday. (Loud Roar Productions)
"It brought back some memories while I was watching the movie," said George Aquila Williams, who went out for a cigarette to avoid being too overwhelmed at the screening. "Like one of those guys was talking about how he [Rowe] would come into the room, and ask the kid to come to his blanket and lie down with him. It really bothered me."

Williams said he was seven years old when Rowe first began abusing him. He became ashamed of who he was, and by the age of 14, he was struggling with addiction. Williams went to prison several times before he confronted his past and pushed for charges against Rowe.

"I spent 20 years of my life in prison, in and out, but as soon as I started talking about stuff, as soon as I saw my abuser in court, that's when things changed in my life," Williams said.

'I did more time than he'll ever do'

Now 45, Williams said his life is finally back on track. He's working as an addiction counsellor in his home community of North Caribou Lake First Nation and coaching a youth lacrosse team. 

Ralph Rowe, 75, who was convicted of nearly 60 sex crimes on Ontario First Nations communities, served less than five years in jail. (Kenora Daily Miner and News)
But talk of Rowe can still bring out old feelings of hurt and anger.

"I did more time than he'll ever do," Williams said. "What I'm angry about is the sentence he got, the deal he got."

In 1994, Rowe was convicted of 39 sex crimes. He was sentenced to six years in prison, but served less than five. Part of Rowe's plea bargain in that case involved a deal with the Crown that he would not be sentenced to further prison time for similar convictions.

There were further convictions in 2005 and 2009. A 2012 guilty plea brought Rowe's tally of convictions to nearly 60 sex crimes and resulted in a two-year conditional sentence to be served under house arrest. Now 75, Rowe is believed to be living in Surrey, B.C.

'All I wanted was for him to be in prison'

"All I wanted was for him to be in prison," Jason Anderson said of his reason for going to police. "That's the only reason I came out because I heard he was only getting a five-year sentence and I thought, 'That's BS.'"

Anderson said he hopes the new documentary will help people understand why so many men of his generation have turned to drugs and alcohol.

'I just want to move on with life and forget about him,' Jason Anderson says of Ralph Rowe,who abused Anderson as a child. (Jody Porter/CBC)
At 41, he said he is trying to live a healthier life, but the injustice of the past has a way of creeping up on him.

"I'm already to that point where I want to just move on with life and forget about him," Anderson said. "Still I think there's some more punishment he should get, for sure."

A retired Ontario Provincial Police officer who works with Rowe's victims said he continues to hear from men who want new charges brought forward, but it's not clear whether the charges will ever be prosecuted.

Survivors Rowe, which debuted at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto in December, will be screened at Lakehead University on Monday at 2:30 p.m. ET in the ATAC building, Room 1003.