Crown Stands by "93 Advice to Cops

By Trevor Pritchard

December 19, 2008

Crown Attorney Murray MacDonald stood by the advice he gave in 1993 to the Cornwall Police Service over whether it had grounds to charge a city priest with historical sexual assault.

MacDonald told the Cornwall Public Inquiry that information he later gleaned about David Silmser's allegations would not have substantially changed what he told the CPS in September 1993 - namely, that they couldn't proceed without a willing complainant.

"I would've drafted the letter (I sent them) perhaps differently," said MacDonald. "But the conclusion I drew, others . . . have drawn the same conclusion with knowledge of all this stuff."

Thursday was MacDonald's second day on the stand at the long-running inquiry into historical sexual abuse allegations.

In late 1992, Silmser told the CPS he'd been sexually abused by a priest, Rev. Charles MacDonald, when he was an altar boy at St. Columban's Church decades earlier.Silmser would strike a $32,000 settlement with the local diocese in 1993 that prohibited him from pursuing his criminal case.

In September 1993, Murray MacDonald sent a letter to the CPS, where investigators were asking what they should do if Silmser was unwilling to participate.

In his response, MacDonald outlined a number of concerns he had with their case - among them, that Silmser was a "very non-credible complainant."

"Grounds are now even further obfuscated," MacDonald wrote, "by the fact that he has evidently used this threat of criminal prosecution as a means of furthering his efforts to gain monetary settlement."

Lead commission counsel Peter Engelmann listed a number of things MacDonald wasn't told about the investigation before he composed that letter.

The Crown attorney's office was never given details about Silmser's alleged abuse at the hands of another man, probation officer Ken Seguin, Engelmann said. Nor was MacDonald ever shown the terms of the $32,000 payout, he pointed out.

"If you had known some of these facts," asked Engelmann, "would it be fair to say that your opinion might have been somewhat different?"

"I doubt it," said MacDonald.

But MacDonald admitted those facts made his letter seem like a "very harsh indictment on poor Mr. Silmser" and had he known them, he would have written it "dramatically differently."

Citizens for Community Renewal attorney Helen Daley asked MacDonald if he was satisfied the investigating officer, Heidi Sebalj, had given him "everything of relevance" before he delivered his opinion.

"I presumed she had," said MacDonald. "She had answers for every question I put (to her)."

MacDonald also testified Thursday he did seek the opinion of an outside Crown, because he'd previously disagreed with the local diocese's position on civil settlements and didn't want to be seen as a "witch hunter."

"The last thing that I ever expected . . . was for anybody to think I was going easy on the church," he said.

Silmser's allegations against Seguin and Charles MacDonald were never proven in court.

In 1996, Murray MacDonald was named by former Cornwall cop Perry Dunlop as part of a conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse allegations in the area.

MacDonald told inquiry commissioner Normand Glaude he was "tempted many times" to respond to the conspiracy allegations, but never felt he could because they were still before the courts.

He also praised the local media for following the testimony of the institutional witnesses after national outlets gradually lost interest in the inquiry.

"I know the facts as I lived them, and there was no conspiracy involving the Crown Attorney's office," MacDonald vowed.

The inquiry resumes this morning.


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