|Smith's Work under Scrutiny
By Trevor Pritchard
November 27, 2008
Lawyers at the Cornwall Public Inquiry picked apart a former provincial police officer's 1994 investigation into whether a $32,000 payout by the Catholic church to former altar boy David Silmser obstructed justice.
But Det. Insp. Tim Smith maintained that of all the parties involved in the settlement - which kept Silmser from pursuing sexual abuse charges against Rev. Charles MacDonald - only Malcolm MacDonald, the priest's lawyer, knew it was against the law.
Wednesday was the retired officer's fifth day at the inquiry, which is probing how a number of institutions responded to allegations of historical sexual abuse.
In late 1992, Silmser told Cornwall police he'd been sexually abused in the 1960s and 1970s by Charles MacDonald, and later by probation officer Ken Seguin.
Silmser settled for $32,000 with the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese in September 1993. That deal, however, included an illegal clause preventing Silmser from speaking to the police.
Citizens for Community Renewal lawyer Peter Wardle took Smith to his notebook entry on a conversation he'd had with Nancy Seguin, the wife of Ken Seguin's brother, about the deal.
According to the entry, then-bishop Eugene LaRocque allegedly told Nancy Seguin on Jan. 10, 1994, that Silmser was to "stay quiet and not bring charges against Father Charles," and that it was "not his decision to make" but the decision of the diocese's lawyer, Jacques Leduc.
The conversation was marked with an asterisk.
"I take it that you saw this as potentially some evidence of the bishop's involvement and Leduc's involvement in the obstruction," Wardle said.
At a press conference on Jan. 14, both LaRocque and Leduc told the national media the deal didn't prohibit Silmser from pursuing criminal charges.
Less than two weeks later, they admitted the deal contained the illegal clause but said they didn't know because the diocese hadn't reviewed the final settlement documents.
Wardle then showed Smith his interview with Leduc - in which Smith stayed mostly silent and didn't ask Leduc about Nancy Seguin's remarks. One "obvious question" to ask, Wardle suggested, would have been why the church would strike any deal unless it expected the criminal proceedings would be halted.
Smith said he went easier on Leduc because he saw him as a witness, and Malcolm MacDonald as the suspect.
"(Leduc's) name didn't show up anywhere in the documents," he said.
Only Malcolm MacDonald was ever charged with obstructing justice. He pleaded guilty in 1995 and one month later received an absolute discharge.
Smith told Dallas Lee, attorney for The Victims Group, that he believed Leduc -who worked in civil law - wouldn't have known enough about criminal matters to realize the clause was illegal.
Nor would Sean Adams, the city attorney who gave legal advice to Silmser and signed the final documents, Smith added.
"When I sent (this case) for review with the Crown attorneys, there were some Crown attorneys who felt there was no offense there," said Smith. "What are the chances of two civil lawyers picking that up?"
Had Malcolm MacDonald gone to trial, said Smith, the lawyers involved in the settlement would have been subpoenaed and other criminal acts might have come to light.
But Lee said it was Smith's job to investigate, not wait for information to come out through the courts.
"I was of the belief, sir, that Malcolm MacDonald orchestrated this settlement . . . without the knowledge of the bishop, and without the knowledge of Jacques Leduc," said Smith.
"It was also in the best interests of his client, moreso than the diocese."
Neither Charles MacDonald nor Ken Seguin were convicted on Silmser's allegations. While the Ontario Provincial Police charged Charles MacDonald in 1996 and again in 1998, all charges were stayed in 2002 after a judge ruled his right to a timely trial had been violated.
Ken Seguin committed suicide in November 1993 and was never charged.
Smith was later assigned to Project Truth, the OPP's investigation into allegations a clan of pedophiles was operating in the Cornwall area.
He retired in 1999, two years before the final trial - coincidentally involving sex abuse charges against Leduc - got under way.
Smith admitted Wednesday he was disappointed his career ended on that note.
"This was my last investigation, and when you go out, you try to do your best," Smith said. "You don't like to go out on an investigation like this."
Of the 15 men charged under Project Truth, only one was convicted in Ontario.
The inquiry resumes today.
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