24 more native men come forward in Boy Scout leader's sex abuse case

Toronto Star/November 8, 2011

Ralph Rowe was a burly Anglican priest who flew himself across northern Ontario for almost two decades, tending to churches in 20 First Nations communities.

He had the perfect cover for a pedophile.

The churchman was also a Scout leader who used his positions to surround himself with his prey.

But in 1994, his crimes caught up with him at Wunnumin Lake, a fly-in reserve 360 kilometres north of Sioux Lookout. Convicted on 39 counts of indecent assault against 15 boys aged 8 to 14, Rowe was sentenced to six years and served four and a half.

Now, 24 First Nations men have gone to the Ontario Provincial Police to complain that they, too, were molested by Rowe.

But part of his 1994 plea deal may prevent Rowe from being sentenced to more time. The Crown agreed that any other cases that surfaced would not result in more jail time as long as they predated the offence and involved no more serious behaviour.

That's not good enough for Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Mike Metatawabin.

NAN, a political organization representing 49 northern First Nations, fears the 24 men will not get their day in court because of the deal.

"These men definitely want to go to trial," Metatawabin said. "They want to face Rowe."

Rowe is now 72 and believed to be living in Surrey, B.C. He could not be reached for comment. The Anglican Church of Canada's Paul Feheley, principal secretary to the primate, said Rowe resigned from the Anglican clergy in 1988.

The Rowe case has revived memories north of the 48th parallel since the CBC and Los Angeles Times joint investigation uncovered news that the Boy Scouts of America kept more than 5,000 suspected child molesters named in confidential files.

In light of the recent 24 allegations, the attorney general's office in Toronto said it is up to police to determine whether to investigate further.

"The Crown has not made a decision with respect to prosecuting any future charges, should they be laid," said Brendan Crawley of the Ministry of the Attorney General.

For the last several years, NAN has run a support group for 131 men they call the Ralph Rowe Survivors Network. Since 2005, the ministry has provided $1.5 million in funding to the group.

"The damage this person did to many innocent young men while he was working has caused so much dysfunction to many families," Metatawabin said.

While they do not have direct proof, NAN believes 18 suicides can be indirectly traced to Rowe's abuse. They also think more victims are out there.

"This is like the residential school scenario, only there has been no official apology or acknowledgment by both government and the communities," Metatawabin said.

Scouts Canada spokesman John Petitti said "it is a matter of public record" Rowe used his position of trust as an Anglican priest to commit terrible crimes during the 1970s and 1980s.

"He also abused his community status to gain entry and then betray the values of Scouts Canada," Petitti said in a statement to the Star. "Tragically some of his victims were also Scouters.

"Although we are constrained in our ability to speak to past legal settlements, his crimes were obviously horrendous and our deepest sympathies and concern extend to all those who suffered harm."

Rowe has been brought forward before the courts since 1994.

In 2006, Rowe faced another 31 alleged victims and 75 charges "spread over a vast expanse of Northwestern Ontario constituting more than 60,000 square miles in size," wrote Justice Erwin Stach in a July 2006 court document.

Preliminary hearings winnowed the number of charges against Rowe from 75 to 57 and complainants from 31 to 25.

Most charges concerned sexual assault and indecent assault and in the vast majority he pleaded guilty, said Robert Sinding, his lawyer at the time.

Of the 31, five went to trial. "The ones that went to trial was where the Crown alleged they didn't fit within the plea agreement because they were more serious," he said.

According to the evidence in three trials, the sexual offences involved inappropriate sexual fondling, masturbation and mutual masturbation.

Two cases ended up in convictions. Rowe was sentenced to three years in prison — one three-year sentence and another one-year concurrent.

In 2009, he was brought before the courts again on six new charges of indecent assault and one count of sexual assault. But those charges were similar to what he faced before, said Sinding.

So the Kenora judge sentenced him to a one-year sentence concurrent to what he was already serving. As a result, he only spent one additional night in jail.

Between 1971 and 1986, Rowe travelled throughout 18 isolated First Nations communities north of Thunder Bay flying into Fort Severn, Fort Hope, Sachigo Lake First Nation and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.

He learned Oji-Cree so he could communicate with the community elders and their children.

Rowe would take the boys on scout jamborees or trips across the country. Some of the abuse happened on planes, in the mission houses and on camping trips.

Don Hewitt is a former Ontario Provincial Police officer who originally worked with Rowe victims since the first cases were uncovered at Wunnumin Lake in 1992.

He is retired now and living in Prince Edward Island but he still flies to Thunder Bay every month to help the victims face the justice system.

"You know, with child abuse, there isn't a quick end to this. It takes a long time to come out and a lot of courage," he said.

"If this case was happening anywhere else, there would be hell to pay. Look at Cornwall, look at that investigation. But we don't have that in Thunder Bay. They are forgotten."

The Cornwall public inquiry, established in 2005, examined allegations of abuse involving youth but the 4-year, $53 million inquiry failed to show a pedophile ring.

A disturbing factor in the Rowe case is that a 1994 deal with the Crown prevents new victims from coming forward, said Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer.

"The Crown, by agreeing to seek concurrent sentences, if 'substantially similar allegations' arise, they are clearly sending the message that there is a one-size fits all approach to sexual abuse against First Nations children," he said from Toronto.

"If you are guilty of one count of sexual abusing a First Nations child it is the equivalent of being guilty of 10 or 20 or 30," Falconer said.

"This is a classic example, in my opinion, of what never would have happened if this kind of tragedy happened among white kids."

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