"a Long and Tortuous Road': Catholic Brother's Guilty Plea Brings Relief for Victim, but Not Closure
By Jesse Feith
November 20, 2017
|A victim of convicted pedophile Olivain Leblanc pauses to feed some ducks during a walk along a river in Montreal on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. ALLEN MCINNIS / MONTREAL GAZETTE|
After waiting seven years for the moment to come, he was anxious the night before. He kept his phone close and waited for the prosecutor’s call: surely, as had already happened so many times, there would be another delay.
But the call never came. So the next morning, he woke early and left for the Montreal courthouse.
He had barely slept and now his brain was racing throughout the hour-long drive. Was he wasting his time? He had gotten his hopes up before only to have them dashed by procedural delays and setbacks. Last spring, he was told it would all be over by September. Now it was November.
It was only once he was sitting in a cubicle at the Montreal courthouse last Tuesday that he realized the wait was finally over. First, there was a warning: the man who abused him so many years ago was in the courtroom next to him. Then, the Crown prosecutor opened the door.
“It’s time,” she told the victim.
On the morning of Nov. 14, Brother Olivain Leblanc, 75, of the Congregation de Ste. Croix sat before a judge — his health too poor for him to stand — and pleaded guilty to one count of gross indecency for sexually abusing a 13-year-old student at Montreal’s College Notre-Dame. The acts, which included oral sex and sexual touching, occurred repeatedly between 1979 and 1981, it was said.
“It’s been a long and tortuous road,” the victim, a man in his early 50s whose name is covered under a publication ban, said a few days later, sipping a coffee while walking along a river.
For decades, he had tried to repress memories of what was done to him. But for the last seven years — the time that elapsed between his complaint to police and Leblanc’s guilty plea — he needed to keep them at surface level, knowing he could be called to testify at any given moment. The stress of it all could be debilitating.
“I was living in this void with no sense of direction,” he said. “I sacrificed seven years of my life because I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew, psychologically, it would be a war of attrition.”
After being expelled from the college during his last year of high school, he went on to live a solitary lifestyle, struggling to find his footing in life while dealing with the psychological after-effects.
For years he said nothing of what was done to him. To cope, he would tell himself it didn’t affect him and wouldn’t stop him from leading a normal life. But it always came back to haunt him, he said.
“My soul was dead,” he explained. “The flame that lives inside of you and guides you through life? That’s what was killed.”
He continued: “You don’t live, you survive. You’re always grabbing on to one buoy here, another buoy there, anything you can hold on to so you can keep your head above water.”
In 1991, he broke his silence and contacted the college’s director about the abuse. Two years later, he received $250,000 — a significant chunk of which went toward his legal fees — and was made to sign a confidentiality agreement.
In 2010, after learning of other victims who attended the college, he contacted the police. In early 2013, Leblanc was charged in criminal court. Later the same year, following many delays, the Congregation de Ste. Croix finalized a settlement to hand out $18 million to more than 200 victims from three schools, including College Notre-Dame.
Of all the years since his abuse, he said, it was the most recent years, filled with uncertainty about the court proceedings and an urge to get it over with, that were the hardest. Now he’s focused on what comes next and feels as though he’s on the cusp of a second life.
About a month before his day in court, he started writing down what he would say when given the chance to address not only the judge but also Leblanc. He struggled to find the right words, but knew them by the time he entered the courtroom last week.
He scanned the room as he opened the door. He saw Leblanc sitting by the aisle. He couldn’t believe the state he was in. He had aged and gained so much weight, he thought. He noticed the walker next to him.
During the proceedings, Leblanc apologized to both the victim and the victim’s deceased mother, who he said he knew.
The emotions the victim felt from then on are difficult to explain, he said.
To him, Leblanc’s apology seemed sincere. For the first time, he said, he felt he was dealing with an individual and not the congregation.
“I know he’s a seasoned manipulator, but the man I saw there … I felt it. He was humbled,” he said.
“It might sound strange, but it did me good to see him again,” he added, pausing to carefully choose his next words.
“For all these years, I had built up this image of him as a monster in my mind. That leaves a mark on you. It weighs on you. With his apology, he showed me that in the end, he’s capable of being human. And that’s important to me.”
On his way to the stand, he said Leblanc whispered to him: “It’s OK. Go ahead.”
After being expelled from College Notre-Dame, the victim explained in his statement, he had gone to see Leblanc.
If there was anyone in the school who could help him, he figured, it was him. But Leblanc told him there was nothing he could do for him.
He never forgot about that moment. And so in court, he repeated it: “Now it’s my turn to tell him that there’s nothing I can do for him,” he told the judge.
Leblanc was sentenced to 15 months of house arrest, a joint recommendation from Crown prosecutors and the defence team. He will also be on Canada’s sex offender registry for 20 years.
There’s one thing left, the victim said, that he knows he needs to do, even though he’s aware some might not understand it.
Religion no longer plays any role in his life, he said. His faith was stolen from him at the college. But he still believes in the process of reconciliation.
“I know I will need to forgive him,” he said. “He killed me, but I need to forgive him, eventually. Maybe after his sentence. I’ll need to do it for myself. Not for him. As long as I don’t, I won’t be able to let go.”