The Current

Canadian Catholic dioceses should follow Vancouver's lead on sex abuse cases, says lawyer

The lawyer who chaired a committee that reviewed historical cases of sex abuse by clergy in the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver told The Current that Catholic entities across Canada should follow their lead, and publish names of convicted abusers.

Archdiocese of Vancouver is the first in Canada to publicize information about convicted clergymen

A statue of Pope John Paul II welcomes visitors to the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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Catholic dioceses across Canada should follow Vancouver's lead and publish information about priests who were convicted of sexual abuse or settled lawsuits, says a lawyer who reviewed the cases.

On Friday, the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver published the results of a months-long internal investigation into historical cases of sexual abuse by its clergy dating back to the 1950s.

The report named nine clergymen who had criminal convictions or lawsuits settled against them.

"I see our report really as a first step and a step forward," Mary Margaret MacKinnon, a Vancouver lawyer who chaired the committee that reviewed the case files, told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch.

It is the first Catholic entity in Canada to make information about convicted priests public. Five days earlier, CBC's The Fifth Estate reported that the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver was aware of 36 historical cases of abuse by its clergy, 26 involving children.

MacKinnon said the committee decided to publish the names of only nine clergymen because there wasn't enough evidence to legally publish the others, according to Canadian law.

While in the United States many dioceses have published names of priests "credibly accused" of sexual abuse, "we don't have a First Amendment right that you find in the United States," she said. 

That, coupled with privacy laws in each province, prevented the committee from publishing the names of priests they deemed "probably guilty" of abuse or assault, she said.

Report 'falls short,' says abuse survivor

Leona Huggins, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse who also sat on the committee, told The Current that while she felt that the report was "groundbreaking," she also believed that "it falls short of the number [of names] that need to be out there." 

"I know that our privacy laws in Canada are very different than in other jurisdictions," she said, "but where does the moral and ethical responsibility come to name names when we're talking about the most vulnerable — our children?"

Leona Huggins describes how the sexual abuse by her parish priest in Westminster, B.C., began in the 1970s, when she was 14. 0:37

MacKinnon said one of the committee's 31 recommendations to the archdiocese was to appoint two independent investigators to review the files, speak to witnesses and gather more evidence around those cases, which might allow them to publish more information in future.

"There has to be a real investigation," she said.

In the meantime, MacKinnon said she was encouraged that the archdiocese had accepted most of the committee's recommendations, such as setting up a new victims' helpline, providing support for victims who want to go to police, and keeping all files related to sexual abuse in one centralized place.

"Almost categorically, these [recommendations] were accepted by the church, which is fantastic, and a first in Canada," she said.

She said that other dioceses can learn from the Vancouver committee's recommendations that "laypeople and community organizers and victims should take part in a process which reforms the church."

"And I'm hopeful that that will be a process which is more oriented on victims and the marginalized people in our community," she said.

Written by Allie Jaynes. Produced by Karin Marley.