cornwall public inquiry; Pattern of burying abuse secrets makes it difficult to come forward

Cornwall Standard Freeholder

01 December 2006

Terri Saunders

Local News – Decades of burying the dark secret of sexual abuse is one reason victims sometimes wait years before they tell anyone about the suffering they endured as children, an adult abuse survivor told the Cornwall Public Inquiry Thursday.

“Don’t be skeptical as to why someone would open up after 20 years,” said Claude Marleau. “Try to understand (that) the abuse has impacted that person’s mental processes.”

Marleau told the inquiry this week he was sexually abused by a number of men in the Cornwall area in the 1960s. Several of those men were acquitted at trials in 2001, but one of them, Rev. Paul Lapierre, was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison in 2004 following a trial in Montreal.

The priest appealed the sentence, but was unsuccessful. He began serving time in September of this year.

Over the course of several years in the late 1990s, Marleau met with investigators from the Ontario Provincial Police’s Project Truth team to give them information about his abuse.

On Thursday, he told the inquiry he still has some doubts as to whether those interviews were conducted properly and whether the resulting criminal charges against Lapierre and three other priests were prosecuted appropriately.

Marleau, who is now 54 years old and a lawyer practising part-time in Montreal and part-time in Costa Rica, said he’s unsure as to whether investigators had sufficient training to handle historical abuse allegations.

“There’s a huge difference between . . . a murder that happened two months ago and a case (involving historical crimes),” he said. “You can’t have the same sort of (investigation) into things that happened years ago.”

Marleau said when he first spoke with police, he wasn’t prepared to give a full statement of the events of his childhood. But that’s exactly what happened.

Marleau said his first encounter with investigators took place at the Lancaster detachment of the OPP, a meeting he believed would be nothing more than a casual conversation to determine whether or not he had any information of use to the Project Truth team.

Marleau said he ended up being formally interviewed about the complete timeline of abuse he suffered between the ages of 11 and 17.

At times, he admitted, he provided information which turned out to be incorrect, something he attributes to a decades-long effort he’d made to keep the abuse hidden deep in his memory.

Marleau said the errors he made came back to haunt him each time he took the stand in the four resulting criminal trials.

“It was a nightmare,” he said Thursday.

He also said it would help police and officials with the justice system to take into account the fact most victims bury details of abuse in an effort to forget it ever happened.

“The process of examination to test the credibility of a witness should be different,” said Marleau, referring to the fact defense attorneys often point to inaccuracies given during police interviews as possible evidence the witness has either changed his story or has mistaken the details of events. “They should factor in the difficulties in memory for someone who has buried it for years.”

Marleau also talked about how difficult it can be for a victim after the abuse has come to an end. He said most victims don’t grow up with the same support systems around them such as family and friends as do young people who are not abused, and once a victim breaks free from an abuser they may often find themselves alone in the world.

“When you get out, you have no mileposts, no reference points,” Marleau said. “You have to build them for yourself. You don’t know what you’re supposed to be.”

Marleau also said many victims will question themselves forever about things such as their own sexuality and whether or not the decisions they end up making in life are ones which resulted from the abuse.

“You never have a certainty that your choices are good choices and that they’re not distorted and not a defense mchanism,” he said.

“For me, even today, I will never know if the fact I don’t have children is a consequence of this cycle of abuse or if it was a choice of free will.”