Key witness at Cornwall inquiry could be charged with contempt of court

Last Updated: Monday, September 17, 2007 | 3:51 PM ET

A former police investigator in Cornwall, Ont., has refused to testify at a public inquiry into a sexual abuse scandal that he helped to uncover in the 1990s.

The commissioner and counsel told Perry Dunlop and his wife Helen on Monday that they have one night to think about the consequences of not testifying at the Cornwall Public Inquiry and that they may be charged with contempt of court if they continue to refuse.

Dunlop received a standing ovation Monday when he took the stand as required by a subpoena that ordered both him and his wife to appear.

He then told the packed hearing room that he was coerced into coming to Cornwall to testify, has no faith in the Ontario justice system, and believes the coverup of the alleged sexual abuse continues.

Commissioner Normand Glaude adjourned the hearing after Dunlop refused to say more. The hearing resumed shortly, so Glaude and the commission's lead counsel, Peter Engelmann, could inform Dunlop and his wife of the possible consequences of their actions.

Dunlop disobeyed his superiors in order to uncover the truth about allegations that prominent members of the community in Cornwall had sexually abused dozens of children in eastern Ontario.

He eventually moved to British Columbia after he was ostracized by other officers and some members of the community, who called him a troublemaker.

The inquiry, headed by commissioner, opened in February 2006. Its mandate is to examine the response of authorities to complaints that surfaced in the 1990s about sexual abuse that took place in Cornwall over decades, starting in the 1950s.

Dunlop turned down a number of invitations to appear at the inquiry, but eventually the commission used the court system to issue a subpoena to both Dunlop and his wife.

Before the appearance, Engelmann, lead counsel for the inquiry, said Dunlop's testimony would be invaluable.

"He interviewed many victims and alleged victims of child sexual abuse and he had many, many interactions with the public institutions that we're examining here," he said.

Dunlop began his key role in the Cornwall investigation after walking in on two police sergeants in September 1993 while they were discussing the Catholic Church's agreement to pay a former altar boy $32,000. In exchange, the victim was dropping his complaint to police about the abuse.

Dunlop handed the original complaint to the Children's Aid Society, which ended up pursuing the case anyway.

He was disciplined for speaking out, but his continued work eventually led to four police investigations and charges being laid against 15 people.

At least five of those were convicted on various charges.