Abuse Victims Complain about Grilling at Cornwall Inquiry
Accused Need Equal Treatment, Lawyer Says

CBC [Canada]
February 20, 2007

Sexual abuse victims have complained about harsh treatment by lawyers at the Cornwall public inquiry, prompting the commissioner to intervene.

Commissioner Normand Glaude was to tell lawyers Tuesday how far they should go when questioning the victims at the inquiry, after least one victim stormed off the stand in the middle of his testimony and another made a written complaint about how lawyers treated him.

The inquiry is examining how public and private institutions responded after dozens of people alleged they were sexually abused by prominent men in the eastern Ontario community over several decades.

'Concerns were expressed that people were being harmed by our own process.'

Commission counsel Peter Engelmann

Commission counsel Peter Engelmann warned lawyers on Monday that the inquiry is not a trial, and they should not aggressively cross-examine witnesses in order to pick apart fuzzy details in their testimony.

"Concerns were expressed that people were being harmed by our own process," Engelmann said.

Witnesses quit

Lawyer Dallas Lee, who represents 50 victims, said several men decided not to testify after David Silmser stormed off the stand on Feb. 1 in the midst of aggressive questioning by Dominic Lamb, the lawyer representing the priest who allegedly abused Silmser, Rev. Charles MacDonald.

'The public will not be well-served if erroneous evidence is left unchallenged.'

Children's Aid Society lawyer Peter Chisholm

Silmser earlier received $32,000 from the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese in relation to his allegations, but MacDonald was never criminally convicted.

On another occasion, David Petepiece told Glaude in a letter that he and other victims were being re-victimized by the cross-examination.

Petepiece was testifying about events related to his alleged abuse by an Anglican minister in the 1950s.

Lawyer David Bennett, who represents the Men's Project, a group that helps sexual abuse victims, said lawyers who treat the inquiry as a trial are missing its point.

"The real issues for this inquiry [are] not necessarily the credibility of the survivors who come forward and present poorly in a traditional way," he said.

But lawyer Peter Chisholm, who represents the Children's Aid Society, said cross-examination of witnesses is the basis of Canada's legal system.

"The public will not be well-served if erroneous evidence is left unchallenged," he said.

Victims, accused should get equal treatment: lawyer

Meanwhile, a lawyer for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall says it is unfair that one victim has been granted a publication ban on his name, while such bans have been refused to men accused but never convicted of sexual abuse.

"Both interests should be respected," David Sherriff-Scott argued Monday.

But Lee, who represents the victims, countered that the victims' names aren't important because they have no connection to each other.

Meanwhile, he said, it is important to name both alleged and convicted abusers because of rumours that they were connected through an organized pedophile ring.

"It's perpetrator A, B and C and the fact that they had coffee every Sunday morning together that we need to know about," he said.

In 1997, a provincial police investigation called Project Truth resulted in 114 charges against 15 men, including a doctor, lawyers and three Roman Catholic priests, but only one person was ever convicted.

The diocese is expected to request publication bans at the inquiry on the identities of several other members and former members of the diocese, including former bishop Eugene LaRocque.


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