DESPITE BOYISH LOOKS AND RELATIVE INEXPERIENCE, DALLAS LEE WAS AN INQUIRY ICON
Cornwall Standard Freeholder
03 February 2009
Posted By TREVOR PRITCHARD
Dallas Lee is in the middle of recounting his past three years at the Cornwall Public Inquiry when he pauses, clears his throat, and apologizes.
“I think I’ve been teetering on the brink (of getting sick) for about three months now,” the young lawyer explains.
“That schedule, coming down to the end, was pretty brutal.”
It’s the day after the inquiry has wrapped up testimony, and it appears Lee’s body is ready to take advantage of the much-needed break.
Since 2006, the 31-year-old Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. native has represented about 50 victims and alleged victims of sexual abuse at the inquiry.
Today, he’s about to make the eight-hour drive from Cornwall to London, Ont. The city is home to both his civil law firm, Ledroit Beckett, and his wife, whom he hasn’t seen since checking in to a city hotel on Jan. 4.
Lee was only a year out of law school when Ledroit Beckett assigned him to represent The Victims Group at the inquiry.
Leaning back in his chair, he says that before he arrived in Cornwall, he knew almost nothing about the rumours of conspiracy and coverup and a clan of pedophiles. He admits he only had an “average” knowledge of what sexual abuse victims had gone through.
His clients initially challenged him about whether he had enough experience to do the job. But what Lee did know was that his worry-free personality was well-suited, as he puts it, to being “thrown in the deep end a little bit.”
“I remember having a conversation with a client one time, and actually promising him, early on, that everything I lack in experience, I was going to make up in energy and hard work and dedication,” he recalls.
“I can rightly be accused of many things and many failings during the course of this inquiry, but laziness is not one of them. I don’t think that anybody doing this job could have put any more into it over the last three years than I did.”
Today, says Lee, he could literally give you a checklist of how the lives of his clients have been scarred by their abuse: they have anger management issues, failed relationships, problems with alcohol and drugs, troubles keeping steady jobs.
But what Lee definitely couldn’t appreciate three years ago was how similar many of his clients’ stories would be.
Lee says he’s never experienced vicarious trauma, a condition that can affect people who work closely with sexual abuse survivors.
But there have been days, as he says, that “you hang your head” at the end of it.
“I’ve quite literally met with people in my office who’ve made their first ever disclosure of abuse to me – never told the wife, never told a counsellor, never told a friend, never told a police officer.
They come to me and lay it all on the table for the first time,” says Lee.
“And I mean, that’s brutally difficult for them, and it’s a horrible thing to see.”
One overwhelming challenge over the past three years has been managing his clients’ expectations about what the inquiry could and couldn’t accomplish.
“Many of them knew in advance this was not going to be a criminal trial, obviously,” says Lee.
“But (I don’t think they) appreciated that the commissioner is not able to tell us, at the end of the day, that a certain person abused somebody, or that a certain person is a victim of abuse.”
“That was hard on a lot of people – that we were going to have this long process, and a report was going to be written, and at the end of the day, they still wouldn’t be, for lack of a better term, ‘confirmed’ in the eyes of the law as a victim of abuse.”
As for that report: Lee says once it’s finished (the province has mandated inquiry commissioner Normand Glaude hand in the final product no later than July 2009) Ledroit Beckett will be engaging in some “fairly intense lobbying” to ensure its final recommendations are implemented.
“I don’t know what shape that will take, or what form that will take, but we’ll do everything we can to make sure the recommendations are taken seriously,” he says.
Lee’s still a bit peeved by the province’s decision in late 2008 to mandate firm deadlines for the inquiry’s completion.
He’s particularly concerned about the narrow window to have written submissions completed – less than three weeks – and says he’d be “stunned” if Attorney General Chris Bentley had a reasonable explanation for that decision.
For people who might be anxious to write off the $40-million inquiry, Lee urges people to wait until the final report is out.
It will be especially sweet for his clients, he says, when the commissioner finds that they were mistreated by one or more of the institutions.
“They can sit back and think, after 15 years of complaining about this and trying to get something done, finally somebody in a position of power has sided with (them) and confirmed the fact that this wasn’t the way it should have been,” says Lee.
“I think, for some of my clients, that’s going to be a powerful thing.” – – –
Inquiry headliners #4
Bishop Eugene Larocque
The 81-year-old LaRocque had a lot to answer for when he took the stand at the Cornwall Public Inquiry last summer.
LaRocque helmed the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese from 1974 until 2002.
In 1993, he signed off on a $32,000 settlement with David Silmser, who was accusing one of his priests of sexually abusing him decades earlier.
That settlement contained an illegal clause that, unknown to LaRocque, kept Silmser from pursuing criminal charges.
LaRocque told the inquiry he felt pressured to sign the deal by lawyers for the priest and the diocese because he had already committed to providing Silmser therapy. He admitted he pressed on with the settlement despite advice to the contrary from a Canada-wide council of bishops.
LaRocque also testified that he hired a New York State priest, Rev. Carl Stone, who had been convicted on sex abuse charges in the U. S.
The former bishop’s final day of testimony coincided with a protest outside the Weave Shed in support of controversial city cop Perry Dunlop. During the protest, Dunlop’s supporters repeatedly shouted “Defrock LaRocque!” – – –
CALLING ALL READERS: We want to hear from you
Eagerly looking forward to the Cornwall Public Inquiry’s final report?
Frustrated with its $40-million price tag?Were there times during the three years of testimony that you just couldn’t believe what you were hearing?
Here’s your chance to speak your mind about the inquiry. On Wednesday and Thursday, reporter Trevor Pritchard will be taking your phone calls between noon and 2 p. m.
Your comments will appear in Friday’s newspaper or on our website at www.standard-freeholder.com . To phone in, call 613-933-3160, ext. 251. You can also send a short e-mail to email@example.com. Names and phone numbers must accompany all submissions. Phone numbers will not be published. Anonymous calls and e-mails will not be used.
Article ID# 1416631