Cornwall's Wounds Reopen As Abuse Inquiry Begins

By Tara Brautigam
Globe and Mail [Canada]
February 14, 2006

CORNWALL, ONT. -- Wounds nearly half a century old were reopened in this eastern Ontario city yesterday as a public inquiry began probing how authorities investigated allegations of children being sexually abused by prominent community members.

"I hear people say . . . this happens in every community," said Steven Parisien, who says he was abused as a child in the 1960s.

"Sure, it happens in every community, but what makes Cornwall so unique is that this has been going on for decades, and nothing was ever, ever done about it."

The industrial city of about 46,000 has been living in denial for years, said Mr. Parisien, 47, adding that he hopes the independent judicial inquiry will give comfort to both the victims and the alleged perpetrators.

"These perpetrators -- they need to go through the healing process also, and I hate to say it, but they do have the right," he said.

The inquiry, scheduled to last until the end of the year inside a former cotton mill at the edge of the St. Lawrence River, "may be a lengthy and sometimes difficult process," said Judge Normand Glaude, who is presiding over the hearings.

"It takes courage to come forward and to speak in a public venue about painful, past events . . . The need for healing and closure exists, no matter what did or did not happen in Cornwall."

Stories have been spreading since the late 1950s about a purported underground group of pedophiles operating in this city, about an hour's drive south of Ottawa. Police spent years trying to get to the bottom of the allegations, laying 114 charges against 15 high-profile men -- including doctors, lawyers and Catholic priests -- in an investigation named Project Truth. But in the end, only three cases made it to court, with one man pleading guilty and police saying they found no evidence that a pedophile ring operated in the city.

While the inquiry's goal is not to assign criminal liability, lead commission counsel Peter Engelmann did not rule out the possibility of more charges if new accusations surface during the proceedings.

"Sometimes when people come forward and talk about child sexual abuse, it gives others who may have experienced that courage or encouragement to come forward, so we may see new allegations," Mr. Engelmann said.

University of Toronto professor David Wolfe, an expert in cases of child abuse, spoke at the inquiry yesterday to outline some of the techniques pedophiles use to lure potential victims.

Most use alcohol or new music during the grooming process, using kindness instead of violence, said Mr. Wolfe, a professor of psychiatry and psychology.

"The reality is that a child molester could be a good person," he said. "They could be the president of your bank. They could be a member of Parliament, for all that matters -- [although] hopefully not."

The scandal came to light in 1992 when a 35-year-old former altar boy came forward with allegations that he had been sexually abused by two Catholic priests in the late 1960s.

But when the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese agreed to pay the man $32,000, he stopped co-operating with police and the investigation was dropped.

Former Cornwall police constable Perry Dunlop later leaked information to the Children's Aid Society, which made it public and prompted more victims to come forward.


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