Sex Cases Took Toll on Opp Officers

By Trevor Pritchard

November 12, 2008

Aretired Ontario Provincial Police detective was on the verge of tears as he told the Cornwall Public Inquiry how years of handling sexual abuse cases had affected both his life and the lives of his fellow officers.

In February 1994, Det. Insp. Tim Smith was assigned to reopen the Cornwall Police Service's (CPS) investigation into sexual abuse allegations levelled 14 months earlier against Rev. Charles MacDonald, a local priest.

In 1997, Smith would become the lead investigator for Project Truth, the OPP's four-year probe into rumours a pedophile ring had flourished in the Cornwall area. The 33-year veteran also investigated chilling stories of sexual abuse from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s at two reform schools in Alfred, Ont. and Uxbridge, Ont.

Smith had been telling the inquiry - which is probing how institutions like the OPP handled historical abuse complaints - why he hadn't asked Const. Mike Fagan, who helped investigate MacDonald in 1994, to serve on Project Truth when he choked up.

"I've had to send some of my men home because it affects them. It didn't affect me when I was working, but it does now," Smith said after a short recess.

"They're tough investigations. I've seen everything in the world, I've seen every crime you can think of, murders and awful things. These are harder. These are tough."

The CPS began investigating MacDonald in December 1992 after one of his former altar boys, David Silmser, told them he'd been sexually abused by MacDonald in the 1960s and 1970s.

The case was dropped in September 1993 after Silmser signed a $32,000 settlement with the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese. That deal, however, included an illegal clause preventing Silmser from pursuing criminal charges against MacDonald.

The OPP gave Smith a three-pronged mandate in February 1994: to investigate a possible conspiracy between the CPS and the diocese, to investigate whether the lawyers who crafted the settlement obstructed justice, and to see if charges could still proceed against MacDonald without Silmser's participation.

Smith told lead commission counsel Peter Engelmann the animosity between CPS chief Claude Shaver and Bishop Eugene LaRocque made it unlikely there was any collusion between the two organizations.

"(Shaver) and the bishop did not get along at all. They wouldn't agree on anything," said Smith.

Continued After Advertisement Below

Smith said their relationship improved after the two men discussed the allegations against MacDonald in October 1993. But by that time, Smith pointed out, the settlement with the illegal clause had already been signed.

"There's no way that I could see (Shaver) being part of a conspiracy to have that charge go by the wayside," said Smith.

The lawyer who acted on MacDonald's behalf in the settlement, Malcolm MacDonald (no relation), pleaded guilty in 1995 to one count of obstructing justice. He received an absolute discharge a month later.

Smith and Fagan also met with Silmser and his lawyer, Bryce Geoffrey, in February 1994 to take a new statement about the alleged abuse.

During that interview, Silmser told the two officers he wanted an apology from MacDonald, so he could explain to his mother why he had fallen into a life of crime.

Smith told the inquiry it was that revelation that convinced him Silmser was telling the truth.

"I can show you a hundred other statements we took (during the Alfred and Uxbridge investigations) that were the same," he said. "These guys, all they wanted was recognition that it happened."


"I saw that with Dave Silmser. No doubt in my mind, he was a victim," Smith added.

The OPP would charge Charles MacDonald with sexually abusing a number of young boys in 1996.

Those charges were stayed in 2002 after a judge ruled the now-retired priest's right to a timely trial had been violated. Charles MacDonald has always maintained his innocence.

The inquiry resumes today at 9:30 a. m.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.