Montreal Order Accused of Years of Abuse

By Sue Montgomery
National Post
March 26, 2009

MONTREAL - Dozens of Quebec boys were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the Les Freres de St. Croix religious order, who taught at Montreal's College Notre-Dame, a motion filed in Quebec Superior Court this week claims.

The motion seeks permission to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of students who attended the prestigious boys' private school between 1974 and 2001, who claim they were sexually abused by either the brothers, laypeople who worked for them, or the brothers' relatives.

The school and order's authorities not only knew the abuse was happening since at least 1972, but covered it up "to the detriment of the children in their care," the motion claims.

The motion was filed by Rene Cornellier Sr., whose son, Rene, attended the college for four years beginning in 1972, when he was just 12.

Before his death in 1994, the younger Mr. Cornellier wrote letters to the college administrators telling them about the abuse he and his friends allegedly experienced at the hands of three brothers.

Mr. Cornellier Sr. learned about his son's abuse from a Montreal Gazette investigation published in December, the motion says.

One of Mr. Cornellier Jr.'s letters, portions of which were published in the article, read: "In this era, threats were effective. I know that the college was made aware of the problem a number of times, but silence was always maintained regardless of the cost."

Mr. Cornellier Sr. is claiming $70,000 for moral and punitive damages he suffered, as well as a reimbursement of $10,000 in school fees he paid. He's also claiming $150,000 for his son's estate.

The motion claims that Brother Charles Smith, who was director of educational services at the time, intimidated Mr. Cornellier Jr. to keep quiet about the abuse.

In doing so, the motion says, the order and the school

put their own interests above those of the children.

Alain Arsenault, the lawyer representing Mr. Cornellier Sr., said the family has tried to get the brothers to issue a public apology about the abuse, but they have refused.

"They just said file your suit, and we'll see what happens in court," he said yesterday.

No one from the college returned phone calls from the Montreal Gazette yesterday.

The brothers have deep roots in Quebec-- they started and own College Notre-Dame, as well as other schools. Along with the priests in the order, they own and operate St. Joseph's Oratory, the great domed church that can be seen from much of the city.

The college was founded by the brothers in 1869 as a private boys' high school that took in boarders, but the last brother to teach there left in 1997. The last director of the school to come from the order died in 2003.

Today, it is a private coed high school with 1,600 students and the only two brothers still on the payroll work in maintenance and audio-visual. The order still has a strong presence on the board of directors.


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