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John McKiggan Q.C.
John McKiggan Q.C.
Attorney • (902) 423-2050

Has the Archdiocese of Moncton Broken the Law By Failing to Report Sexual Abuse?

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Two Priests Suspended

Last week the Archdiocese of Moncton announced that two New Brunswick priests have been suspended indefinitely: "from any ministry whatsoever following allegations of serious sexual abuse on minors on their part."

The priests, Rev. Yvon Arsenault (70) and Irois Despres (82) were both retired but the official suspension prevents them from performing any priestly duties.

While the two priests have been suspended, they have not yet been removed as priests. The decision came as a result of some information that was provided to the Archdiocese by retired Supreme Court of Canada Judge Michel Bastarache.

Failure to Provide Details of Wrongdoing

What is troubling about the announcement is that the Archdiocese has refused to release any information regarding where and when the alleged acts occurred. Throughout their careers the priests worked in a number of New Brunswick communities.

Arsenault worked in Moncton, Shediac, Bouctouche, Scoudouc, Dorchester, Baie Sainte-Anne and other locations.

Despres worked in Grande-Digue, Scoudouc, Dieppe, Saint-Ignace, Pointe-du-Chene, Sackville, Dorchester, Memramcook, Shediac and other locations.

Independence?

Bastarache no longer sits as a judge. He is now a lawyer practicing with a large law firm in Ottawa and Montreal. M. Bastarache was hired by the Diocese to create and manage a "conciliation process" to pay compensation to people who were sexually abused by the late Rev. Camille Leger.

I posted about this process in 2010 when it was announced that the Diocese had hired Mr. Bastarache to find and "assist" abuse victims: Sexual Abuse Allegations Levelled Against Father Levi Noel, Father Charles Picot and Diocese of Bathurst

The concern I expressed at the time, and still have, is that the program set up by the Diocese was done unilaterally without consultation with survivors. If you are creating a program to benefit abuse survivors, shouldn't you at least talk to survivors first?

Further, the program doesn’t allow for abuse victims to have a lawyer represent them through the compensation process. This is particularly troubling given the vulnerability of many abuse survivors.

Diocese Refuses to Notify Authorities

The Archdiocese and M. Bastarche have told the media they have no obligation to report the allegations of "serious sexual abuse on minors" by the two priests to police.

What Does the Law Require?

No doubt the Diocese has already been provided with legal advice regarding it’s obligations under The Family Services Act of New Brunswick which states:

30(1) Any person who has information causing him to suspect that a child has been … physically or sexually ill-treated, including sexual exploitation through child pornography or otherwise abused shall inform the Minister of the situation without delay.

30(2) This section applies notwithstanding that the person has acquired the information through the discharge of his duties or within a confidential relationship, but nothing in this subsection abrogates any privilege that may exist because of the relationship between a solicitor and the solicitor’s client.

30(3) A professional person who acquires information in the discharge of the professional person’s responsibilities that reasonably ought to cause the professional person to suspect that a child has been…physically or sexually ill-treated, including sexual exploitation through child pornography or otherwise abused but who does not inform the Minister of the situation without delay commits an offence.

"Any person" in the legislation applies to members of the Archdiocese. The legislation does not require certain proof of allegations of child abuse. It only requires suspicion of child abuse.

If the Diocese is aware (as it has publically stated) of allegations of sexual abuse of minors (or even suspects that abuse happened), the Family Services Act clearly requires the Diocese to report the allegations to authorities.

What Do You Think?

Do you think the notice provisions in the The Family Services Act apply to authorities within the Diocese?

Should the Diocese be required to report it's suspicions of child abuse by Arsenault and Despres to police?

Are there any other priests the Archdiocese knows about that the Diocese believes committed child abuse?