Former Hanover priest sentenced for sexual abuse

Sun Times [Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada]

March 31, 2021

By Scott Dunn

A priest who lived in Hanover was sentenced Wednesday to 21 months in jail in the Superior Court of Justice in Walkerton for sexually abusing a child.

Mervin Perera, 73, was found guilty Jan. 30 of touching a girl for a sexual purpose, after a trial in Walkerton. He appeared in person in a Walkerton courtroom but the sentencing was conducted by videoconference.

Perera has appealed the court’s decision and was released immediately after he was sentenced, his lawyer, Scott Cowan said after the hearing. Perera is governed by release terms which include non-association with the victim.

Perera served as a Roman Catholic priest for many decades, is retired and is no longer living in Hanover, Cowan said.

The trial heard evidence from the victim and her family, none of whom may be identified under a court-ordered publication ban, to protect the victim’s identity.

Sentencing submissions were made Feb. 4, in which Cowan argued for a conditional sentence, served at home. Hali Adair, for the Crown, sought a prison sentence of four to five years.

In his written reasons for sentencing, Justice John Sproat said Perera used his finger to subject the girl to a “virginity test” and “anointed” her by massaging oil all over her body.

Sproat called the abuse “at the very high end of the scale” but disagreed the facts supported four to five years imprisonment, as has been handed to others in cases submitted by the Crown.

The judge wrote that if not for Perera’s health and the COVID-19 pandemic, which would make serving the sentence “more hazardous and difficult,” 30 months imprisonment would be appropriate.

“He traded on his position of authority as priest,” the decision said.

The assault has had “a very significant impact” on the victim. She feels “fearful, worried, confused and depressed,” the decision said.

Adair, for the Crown, argued in February that anything less than penitentiary time for someone whom she said has shown no remorse “sends the wrong message.”

Cowan told the judge in February that Perera suggested pancreatitis, and infection of his liver and gall bladder, could have aggravated his behaviour. He has short-term memory loss and lacks insight into that condition.

Sproat noted a geriatric-cognitive assessment report dated Sept. 29, 2020, showed Perera was on 15 medications, seemed unaware he’d wet his pants during the medical interview and couldn’t retrieve contact information from his phone.

“The report suspects that M.P. is suffering from the onset of dementia syndrome although it is indicated to probably be of mild severity.”

Perera reports feeling better, his medications are working and he’s happy and living independently at home, Sproat’s decision said.

Sproat noted letters of support for the priest. He cited a presentence report about Perera, which said other than these offences, he “has been described as hardworking, dedicated to serving communities as a priest, often going beyond the call of duty to help other(s) in need.”

But his victim was younger than 18, he abused his position of trust and the victim continues to suffer impacts of the abuse, Sproat said.

A conditional sentence “would not adequately serve the ends of denunciation and deterrence, particularly given the extremely egregious breach of trust . . .” he said. And Sproat expressed concern that Perera wouldn’t follow the conditions of such a sentence, given he violated court orders not to contact the victim or her family, his decision said.

Sproat said Perera may be a low risk to reoffend but he put him on a three-year probation order following his release and must undertake counselling for sexual offenders. He is to submit a DNA sample, be subject to a firearms and weapons prohibition and be added to the National Sex Offender Registry.

He is not to have anything to do with anyone younger than 18 unless he’s with a competent adult and isn’t to associate with the victim or her immediate family.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Hamilton declined to comment Wednesday, saying it had no official word that Perera was convicted.