Only Necessary to Interview Cornwall Police Officers: Opp Cop

By Trevor Pritchard,

November 13, 2008

The detective who investigated whether city police conspired with the Catholic church to cover-up sexual abuse allegations against a local priest felt it wasn't necessary to interview any officers other than the force's chief, the Cornwall Public Inquiry heard Wednesday.

Det. Insp. Tim Smith testified that former Cornwall Police Service chief Claude Shaver was a "micromanager" and a "hands-on chief " and that any conspiracy or collusion couldn't have occurred without his knowledge.

Yesterday was Smith's second day on the stand at the inquiry, which is exploring how institutions like the Ontario Provincial Police handled allegations of historical sexual abuse. Smith spent more than three decades with the OPP before retiring in 1999.

In February 1994, Smith was assigned to re-open the CPS's investigation into allegations that Rev. Charles MacDonald had sexually abused a former St. Columban's Church altar boy, David Silmser, more than two decades earlier.

The CPS had closed its case the previous September after Silmser signed a $32,000 settlement with the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese.

That settlement included an illegal clause preventing Silmser from pursuing charges against MacDonald.

The OPP charged MacDonald with sexually abusing a number of boys in 1996, but those charges were stayed six years later because they had taken too long to come to trial. The now-retired priest has always maintained his innocence.

Smith told lead commission counsel Peter Engelmann he felt he didn't need to interview Const. Heidi Sebalj, who investigated Silmser's allegations, or Staff Sgt. Luc Brunet, who managed the force's child sexual abuse unit.

"Brunet and Sebalj, I suggest to you sir, would not make any decisions on their own in regard to that (closing the investigation) for fear of reprisals from Shaver," said Smith.

"There's no doubt in my mind he would have come down on them like a ton of bricks."

But Engelmann listed seven other CPS officers who'd had some form of interaction with the MacDonald case, and asked Smith why he hadn't pursued those leads either.

Smith - who'd previously investigated allegations of police corruption in the Toronto area - explained how during those types of cases, it was routine for the investigating officers to get anonymous tips.

That didn't happen in the CPS investigation - surprising, said Smith, given the well-documented low morale on the force at the time.

"I would have expected something, with the troubles they were having internally," said Smith. "There were too many people (who) knew what was going on to really carry off, in my opinion, a conspiracy."

Those conspiracy rumours might not have emerged had former CPS officer Perry Dunlop not turned over a copy of Silmser's statement to police to the local Children's Aid Society branch - a statement that later ended up in the hands of the media.

Dunlop was charged under the Police Services Act for his actions, and Engelmann asked Smith if he thought those charges could have caused "some fear or some anxiety" on the part of any other potential whistleblowers.

Smith said the CPS would never have known where any incriminating evidence came from.

"(After) all the publicity that we had, and all of the allegations that were going back and forth in the press, not one person left a message of any kind," said Smith.

"There are enough people in the police force that were unhappy that I would have got something."

In hindsight, however, Smith admitted it would have been "beneficial" to take statements from more CPS employees than just Shaver.

As part of Smith's investigation, he also probed whether there was any attempt to obstruct justice on the part of the lawyers involved in the $32,000 settlement.

In July 1994, he interviewed Murray MacDonald, the city's Crown attorney.

During that interview, Murray MacDonald told Smith that Charles MacDonald's lawyer, Malcolm MacDonald, had disclosed there was a deal in place.

Smith testified Wednesday he saw nothing unusual about that disclosure.

"In a small town, there's always negotiations going on between lawyers and the Crown," he said. "That wouldn't be unusual."

Malcolm MacDonald pleaded guilty in 1995 to one count of obstructing justice. He received an absolute discharge one month later.

Smith will return to the stand on Nov. 24. The inquiry resumes this morning with a new witness.


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