Victims of alleged abuse must testify to heal city, lawyers tell inquiry

Tara Brautigam, Canadian Press

Published: March 30, 2006

CORNWALL, Ont. -- The emotional wounds left by long-standing allegations of child sexual abuse will continue to fester in this eastern Ontario city if victims aren't allowed to tell their stories to a public inquiry, a parade of lawyers argued Wednesday.

One by one, lawyers for victims, the local and provincial police and other groups with standing at the inquiry took turns arguing against a motion to prevent those who allege they were sexually abused as children from taking the stand.

Commissioner Normand Glaude is presiding over the inquiry, which is examining how public institutions like the police and child-welfare authorities responded to allegations that have been hanging over the blue-collar city of 46,000 for nearly half a century.

"This commission has an obligation to hear evidence from victims concerning reports they made to public institutions about alleged abuse suffered at the hands of specific individuals," said Peter Wardle, a lawyer for the group Citizens for Community Renewal.

"It would be impossible for you, in my submission, to report . . .on the institutional response to the allegations without hearing from those who made them in the first place."

But Giuseppe Cipriano, a lawyer for Rev. Charles MacDonald, said allowing the testimony would effectively retry his client on charges that were stayed four years ago.

"For them to come here and now make a criminal accusation against our client and to leave it at that without more would not be a full inquiry," Cipriano said.

"It will inherently turn the inquiry into a trial."

MacDonald was accused of being part of a clan of pedophiles that allegedly victimized children for decades, but charges against him were stayed in May 2002 after a judge ruled his right to a timely trial had been violated.

A lengthy police investigation in the 1990s concluded that there was no evidence of a pedophile ring.

Lead commission counsel Peter Engelmann said it was never intended for the inquiry to delve into the validity of the claims from alleged victims.

Rather, the commission wants to determine whether their statements accurately reflect what police, probation officers and other authorities were originally told about the allegations, Engelmann said.

"We will not be asking these individuals whether the full gambit of the allegations therein are true," he said. "I've said it on many occasions."

Cipriano's argument that the testimony would tarnish MacDonald's reputation is nonsense, given the amount of media attention MacDonald has already been subjected to, said lawyer Dallas Lee, who represents victims.

"It is difficult to imagine that whatever comes out of this inquiry is going to have that great an impact on Father MacDonald," Lee told Glaude.

"It's all out there already and it's been out there for years . . .to limit the scope of this inquiry by refusing to hear from the victims who are at the very heart of the inquiry would make it impossible to satisfy your mandate."

Cornwall, a city bordered by Quebec and New York state, has been at the centre of lingering stories about a purported underground network of pedophiles that existed since the late 1950s and allegedly involved prominent members of this city's Roman Catholic clergy.

Police laid 114 charges against 15 men in the 1990s after a sweeping investigation known as Project Truth, netting suspects including a doctor, a lawyer and three priests.

In the end, only five cases ever made it to court, resulting in four acquittals and one man pleading guilty.

The inquiry is scheduled to resume Monday with officials from the Children's Aid Society taking the stand.

 The Canadian Press 2006