Final Settlement Not Read, Lawyer Admits

By Neco Cockburn
The Ottawa Citizen

July 17, 2008

Tells Cornwall sex abuse inquiry he was unaware of illegal undertaking

A former lawyer for the Alexandria-Cornwall Catholic diocese says he should have reviewed a settlement between religious officials and a former altar boy who alleged he had been sexually abused by a priest before he passed the agreement along to his client.

Jacques Leduc told a public inquiry that he did not read the final copy of the $32,000 non-disclosure agreement, which included an illegal undertaking that prevented complainant David Silmser from pursuing criminal charges against Rev. Charles MacDonald.

Mr. Leduc said he told Father MacDonald's lawyer, Malcolm MacDonald, who drafted the document, that he should exclude references to criminal actions. But after the final document was signed in September 1993, Mr. Leduc claimed he handed it over, unopened, to a church official.

"I had no reason to expect anything else from the document than that which we had agreed to. That's the explanation. It's not an excuse, it's an explanation," he said yesterday.

On Jan. 6, 1994, news of the settlement hit the media and touched off a sex scandal in the Cornwall area that helped spark the Ontario Provincial Police-led Project Truth investigation and, years later, the ongoing inquiry into the institutional response to allegations of historic sexual abuse.

Mr. MacDonald eventually entered a guilty plea to a charge of trying to obstruct justice and received an absolute discharge in October 1995.

A day after news of the settlement emerged, Bishop Eugene LaRocque issued a press release stating the diocese "has acted in accordance with the guidelines accepted and promulgated for the immediate and serious attention demanded by such a complaint."

Yesterday, Mr. Leduc said that was not true. There was no written report and that a church official did not take recommended steps such as notifying the Children's Aid Society about the case, he said.

Mr. Leduc, who conceded during his testimony that he may have opened a file on the Silmser matter, but said he could not recall taking or keeping any notes, faced several questions about his claims of spotty record-keeping.

Mr. Leduc compiled an itemized list of 45 billable hours in relation to the Silmser case, for a total of $6,860.84, but told commission counsel Karen Jones not to put much stock in the hourly tally.

"I'm sure you've also heard it said often that billing clients is an art. I will tell you clearly again not to believe that these numbers referring to hours relate to actual time spent," Mr. Leduc said.

"I had different ways of looking at a file and deciding how much to submit to the client."

Mr. Leduc also told the inquiry yesterday that he had decided not to comment at this point regarding previous criminal matters he faced stemming from Project Truth. Mr. Leduc was charged with sex-related offences in June 1998.

The charges were stayed twice: in 2001, after a judge ruled the Crown had withheld information; and in 2004, when a judge ruled the case had taken too long to get to trial.

Cross-examination of Mr. Leduc is scheduled for today.


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