Abell's Testimony Contradicts Remarks of Shaver, Dunlop

By Trevor Pritchard

October 25, 2008

The former head of the local Children's Aid Society gave the Cornwall Public Inquiry his own slant Friday on the early stages of his agency's 1993-94 investigation into abuse allegations involving a local priest.

Parts of Richard Abell's testimony contradicted remarks made by Claude Shaver, chief of the Cornwall Police Service from 1984 until 1994,when he took the stand at the inquiry in June, as well as a sworn statement by former cop Perry Dunlop.

In 1993, Dunlop showed Abell a copy of the allegations that David Silmser, who had been an altar boy at St. Columban's Church in the 1960s and 1970s, had made to the CPS that previous December.

Silmser had alleged that Rev. Charles MacDonald, a parish priest, had sexually abused him when he was a boy.

By the time Dunlop - who was not involved in the investigation - obtained Silmser's statement, the CPS had decided not to lay charges.

Abell said he first learned of the allegations against MacDonald one night in September 1993, when he and his wife had gone to see Dunlop - a good friend - play music at a pub in St. Andrew's West.

Dunlop was very angry, Abell recalled. He felt the matter hadn't been properly handled by the CPS, said Abell, and believed "something needed to be done."

"It wasn't really a conversation. It was Perry pouring it out," said Abell.

They met again the next day, and a few days later, Abell picked up a copy of the statement from Dunlop's home.

Lead commission counsel Peter Engelmann took Abell to Dunlop's version of what happened in late 1993.

Dunlop claimed that Abell came to his house in October, advising him to "keep low" because his job was at risk and the CPS were "coming for (his) head."

Abell called those statements "nonsense," adding Dunlop didn't need to be told what sort of risks he was exposing himself to. He said he always tried to keep the Silmser matter separate from his personal friendship with Dunlop.

"I tried very, very hard to maintain a professional line, and it got increasingly difficult," said Abell. "And then it got impossible."

Abell also met with Shaver that October to discuss the allegations.

According to Abell's notes, during their meeting, Shaver revealed the CPS had "screwed up big time." That phrase was followed in the notes by a dash and three words: "investigation not done."

When Shaver was on the stand, he testified he was referring to the fact Dunlop had gone outside official channels by giving the CAS Silmser's statement.

"Did you believe the 'screwed up big time' referred to the fact that Perry Dunlop had given you a copy of the statement?" Engelmann asked Abell.

"No. My understanding was, as I state in my notes, was that the 'screw-up' was referring to the conduct of the investigation," said Abell.

Shaver also testified he never would have revealed to an outside agency whether or not a CPS officer was facing discipline. Yet Abell's notes also showed the lead investigator, Const. Heidi Sebalj, was to be disciplined, and that her immediate superior, Sgt. Luc Brunet, failed to properly supervise her work.

"I'm going to ask you very directly: is this something you heard from Claude Shaver?" asked Engelmann. "Or is this something that Perry Dunlop might have told you earlier?"

"These notes here, what we're looking at, is a record of what I heard in that meeting with Chief Shaver," said Abell.

After receiving Silmser's statement, the CAS launched Project Blue, their investigation into whether any children were at risk of being abused by MacDonald.

In February 1994, the agency concluded that while Silmser's allegations were likely true, there was no risk of MacDonald presently harming any children.

MacDonald was charged by the Ontario Provincial Police in 1996 with several counts of sexual abuse. Those charges were stayed in 2002 after a judge ruled MacDonald's right to a speedy trial had been violated.

The now-retired priest has always maintained his innocence. The inquiry, which is probing how institutions like the CAS handled historical sexual abuse allegations, resumes Monday at 9:30 a. m.


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