Police Decline to Lay Charges in School Sex-Abuse Allegations

By Michael Valpy
Globe and Mail
November 22, 2008 LAC.20081122.GRENVILLE22/TPStory/TPNational/Ontario/

After a 14-month investigation, the Ontario Provincial Police said yesterday it had decided not to lay charges in response to allegations of physical and sexual abuse at a former private school run by Anglican priests.

The statement from the OPP said the decision had been made in consultation with the Crown attorney in Grenville County, where Grenville Christian College was located, just outside the St. Lawrence River community of Brockville.

The school closed in the summer of 2007. Its stone building and grounds have since been sold for a housing development with the $5-million in proceeds being held in trust under an interim injunction won by former students who have launched a class-action suit against the religious community that formerly owned the college.

The Toronto lawyer representing the former students, Loretta Merritt, said, "Obviously my clients are very disappointed with the decision. But I know it has not deterred them from their desire to see justice done."

New York musician Michael Phelan, the son of a former Grenville headmaster and a former student at the school, talked with the OPP at length about his treatment by school staff. Mr. Phelan said: "I understand that it's notoriously difficult to prosecute child abuse cases. But at the same time, it doesn't mean that these things didn't really happen. It doesn't mean that I wasn't abused, that many students weren't abused. And I don't regret coming forward. I hope nobody does."

A series of articles in The Globe and Mail - revealing harsh, cult-like religious activities and the abuse of students from the 1970s to the 1990s - led first to an investigation by the bishop of the Anglican diocese of eastern Ontario and then a criminal investigation by the OPP.

The statement that an OPP investigating officer made to former students by e-mail and telephone Thursday night said the police, in consultation with the Crown attorney, had decided not to lay charges because "it is not in the best interest of the public to do so."

The OPP statement released to the news media yesterday omitted any reference to the public interest.

The phrase is used by Crown prosecutors when they feel charges should not go ahead because there's no hope of a successful prosecution, or because witnesses have died or their memories are uncertain because of the amount of time that has passed.

A spokesman for the Ontario Attorney-General's Ministry said it was unlikely there would be any explanation forthcoming of why it was not in the public interest to lay charges, citing the confidential solicitor-client relationship between Crown prosecutors and the police.

Andrew Hale-Byrne, a British civil servant who graduated from Grenville in the 1990s, said, "I am concerned to hear that the Crown does not feel it is in the public interest to proceed. Perhaps it is in the interest of those devastated abuse victims who have talked to me to proceed. Just because the alleged behaviour is alleged to have taken place many years ago, that is no excuse not to press charges.

"One would like to think the proposed housing development would cover the sins of that place, but evil goes straight to the core and that place will remain haunted by what was done there to children."


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