Church's Demands Could Limit Sex Abuse Inquiry's Scope

CBC News [Canada]
February 23, 2006

CBC News

In a controversial move, the diocese under investigation at a public inquiry in Cornwall for its handling of sex abuse allegations is arguing that it not be considered a public institution. If the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese succeeds, it will limit how closely the inquiry can examine the diocese's response to abuse complaints. The inquiry, which wraps up its second week on Friday, is looking into how allegations of sexual abuse by prominent citizens and clergy were handled by authorities.

Under its mandate, the inquiry clearly divides public institutions and other community sector organizations. But under which category does the diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall fall? The answer is critical since it determines the inquiry's reach. If the diocese is deemed a community organization, the inquiry will be unable to demand certain information. "There would be no scrutiny of the diocese's internal investigations, where they didn't relate to some other public institution," said Dallas Lee, a lawyer for a group of victims with standing at the inquiry. He said the church should be subject to the same level of scrutiny as the other institutions, which include the police, the justice system, and the Children's Aid Society.

But the diocese argues it is a private corporation and a charity, not a public institution with a duty to deal with complaints of abuse. David Sherriff-Scott, the lawyer for the diocese, said his client does not intend to curb the inquiry's reach, and has in fact been co-operating with the commission by handing over key documents. "To suggest that the diocese is somehow trying to limit the inquiry is absolutely irresponsible and wrong," said Sherriff-Scott. He said the commission agrees with his client's position, but other groups may ask for a ruling on the matter. Officials with the commission were unwilling to comment.


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