CORNWALL, Ont. - Rumours that swirled for years that children were abused at the hands of a pedophile ring in eastern Ontario were neither put to rest nor given credence Tuesday by a $53-million public inquiry report four years in the making.
The Cornwall inquiry's official mandate was to examine institutional responses to historical claims of sexual abuse, and the sensational allegation that fuelled it went unresolved in the more than 1600-page report.
"Throughout this inquiry I have heard evidence that suggested that there were cases of joint abuse, passing of alleged victims, and possibly passive knowledge of abuse," Commissioner G. Normand Glaude wrote.
"I want to be very clear that I am not going to make a pronouncement on whether a ring existed or not."
The Ontario Provincial Police spent four years investigating allegations of sexual abuse, an investigation Glaude criticized in the report. Police laid 115 charges against 15 people under Project Truth, though only one was convicted.
The police declared there was no evidence of a ring, but that failed to quell the suspicion and fear in the community.
"There is good reason why certain members of the public were less than satisfied with the OPP's unequivocal position about the non-existence of a ring," Glaude wrote.
"I find that the OPP did not conduct a full-scale investigation into the linkages between victims and perpetrators."
Glaude made the point, however, of noting "much of what I have heard about linkages remain allegations that have not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
The report found institutional response to reports of sexual abuse was, in large part, inadequate and failed to protect the vulnerable. Among the commissioner's recommendations was to expand training and mandatory education for professionals such as public servants, those in the justice system, teachers and others having contact with children or adults who may have been sexually abused.
At closing submissions in February, groups including the local diocese and police service urged the commissioner to debunk the pedophile clan theory once and for all.
While the commissioner did not answer that call, he did find that allegations that officials at the Ministry of the Attorney General conspired to cover-up allegations of sexual abuse were unfounded.
And perhaps the most sensational of all the stories - that a clan of powerful men sexually abused boys at a cottage during strange rituals while clad in robes - was given little credence.
The source of the tale was Ron Leroux, who both police and Glaude found not to be credible and who later recanted his allegations at the inquiry. He was a "highly suggestible individual" who adopted ideas that one crusading police officer put to him as his own, Glaude wrote.
Leroux told his story to former Cornwall police officer Perry Dunlop, who was conducting an unsanctioned, off-hours investigation. Dunlop's probe began after he discovered an alleged abuse victim withdrew a complaint against a priest in 1993 after reaching a settlement with the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese.
Dunlop was right to disclose the settlement to the Children's Aid Society, said Glaude. However, Dunlop's distrust of public institutions, including police and prosecutors, eventually overwhelmed what was a genuine desire to help children, he wrote.
Further, the commissioner found it "troubling" that Dunlop could not accept, at some point, that Leroux was not the "definitive source" he had hoped for in his investigation.
Dunlop, who lives in British Columbia and could not immediately be reached for comment, spent seven months in jail for contempt when he refused to testify at the inquiry of his own making, saying he no longer had faith in the system.
Dunlop's crusade to root out pedophiles began with good intentions, but his leading interview questions, especially with Leroux, suggest a "process to develop a narrative supportive of a desired theory," Glaude said.
Provincial police did investigate Leroux's specific clan allegation, but failed to properly pursue links between alleged perpetrators, Glaude added. He noted problems with defining a "ring," and said given the information police had at the time, it is "difficult to say whether the OPP should have declared that it had found some evidence of a 'pedophile ring.'"
The very real abuse that many people suffered may have been the result of an organized group or it could have been an "unfortunate coincidence," which could have arisen from the fact that many alleged abusers were part of a particular institution, such as the local diocese or justice system, Glaude wrote.
Part of the inquiry's funding has been going toward counselling for victims of sexual abuse, support that is scheduled to end on Jan. 15.
Glaude said he hoped the Ontario government would reconsider that decision and called on it to fund counselling for up to five years.
Attorney General Chris Bentley said there was no question there would be more money to help victims, but did not specify an amount.
"Be clear, we're going to make sure those that suffered terrible wrongs and have been victims, to support them," said Bentley, who also defended the inquiry's work, despite the $53-million price tag.
"This community needed to be heard. Those who were victimized needed to be heard," he said.
"I would ask people not to forget the importance of allowing victims to have their story, have their pain, truly heard."
In finding there were systemic failures in how institutions responded to allegations of sexual abuse of children, Glaude said "for some, this resulted in revictimization by the institution from whom they sought help."
"The response of institutions became a further source of harm."
Most of the problems Glaude found with institutions such as the probation office, the diocese and the police stem from his assertion that they failed to fully investigate claims of child sexual abuse.
He highlighted several cases in which he said institutions, when confronted with evidence an official was abusing children, failed to attempt to find other victims or other abusers within the institution.
Glaude also highlighted expert evidence that abusers tend to associate themselves with particular institutions that give them ready access to children.