Publication Ban Requests Delay Cornwall Public Inquiry

CBC News [Canada]
November 27, 2006

The Cornwall inquiry into child sexual abuse allegations is months behind schedule, thanks in part to a flood of lawyers' motions seeking to keep information from the public, the lead counsel says.

The inquiry is looking into how authorities dealt with scores of sexual abuse allegations against prominent members of the eastern Ontario community over several decades.

'I think it's part of the nature of the beast. This is a very sensitive matter. There are a number of public institutions involved and many of them are asserting forcefully their clients' rights.'
-Peter Engelmann, lead counsel
It was set to conclude on June 30. But Peter Engelmann, the lead counsel for the inquiry, now estimates that the proceedings will continue for some time.

He said the inquired has been delayed partly by an unusually high number of lawyers' motions, such as one scheduled to be heard Monday from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall.

The diocese is asking for a publication ban on the name of an individual who was charged with child sexual abuse.

Other motions include requests to have testimony deleted from the public record.

The Cornwall case attracted nationwide controversy, with some people alleging a coverup of a widespread abuse ring involving high-level figures. Others have questioned the allegations, describing them as a form of mass hysteria or witch hunt that damaged the community and wrecked the reputations of innocent people.

Delays blamed on sensitive nature of allegations

The lawyers' motions total more than a dozen, far more than the one or two brought forward at previous provincial public inquiries such as the Walkerton inquiry into the a deadly case of water contamination and the Ipperwash inquiry into circumstances surrounding the death of Dudley George during an Ontario Provincial Police crackdown on aboriginal protestors.

But Engelmann said the delays can be blamed on the unique qualities of the Cornwall inquiry.

"I think it's part of the nature of the beast," he said. "This is a very sensitive matter. There are a number of public institutions involved and many of them are asserting forcefully their clients' rights."

Mass of documents also slowed down inquiry

He added that another cause of the slowdown is that more than 70,000 documents have been entered as exhibits at the inquiry.

The evidence is not always filed on time, he added, "which is causing difficulties for counsel for the commission, certainly causing difficulties for our staff and I think creating some unfairness for witnesses if they're not shown things in advance."

Gary Guzzo, a former MPP who lobbied to hold the inquiry, accused lawyers for the alleged abusers of long using such tactics to slow proceedings down. He said many of the alleged victims and abusers have died.

On Nov. 17, the commission denied a request to ban the identity of Rev. Charles MacDonald, a Roman Catholic priest, at the inquiry.

Initial investigations by local and provincial police found no wrongdoing, sparking the first allegations of a coverup.

In 1997, a provincial police investigation called Project Truth resulted in 114 charges against 15 men, including a doctor, lawyers and three Roman Catholic priests.

But only one person, unconnected to the alleged sex ring, was ever convicted of sexual offences.


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