Cornwall sex-abuse inquiry not 'truly public': journalist
Last Updated:Wednesday, November 8, 2006 | 11:40 AM ET
An inquiry into the handling of allegations of widespread sexualabuse in Cornwall, Ont., is withholding important information anderoding public confidence in the process, says a journalist coveringthe hearings.
Terri Saunders, a reporter with the Cornwall Standard-Freeholdernewspaper, is among the journalists calling for the release of moreinformation from the inquiry, which has withheld some evidence from thenews media and imposed a number of bans on what they can publish.
'The more you try to hide things away â€¦ the further away you get from being a truly public inquiry.'-Journalist Terry Saunders
The inquiry, which started in February, is examining the response ofauthorities to accusations made over decades that clergy members,police officers and other prominent members of the southeastern Ontariocommunity sexually abused dozens of local children.
It was called after a four-year Ontario Provincial Policeinvestigation laid 114 criminal sex-related charges against 15 men fromthe area between 1997 and 2001 â€” but resulted in only one conviction.The investigation, dubbed Project Truth, attracted national attention,with some people alleging a cover-up while others said the reputationsof innocent people were smeared by wild rumours and conspiracy theories.
Saunders said the news media needs access to withheld evidence inorder live up to its responsibility as the eyes and ears of the publicand to ensure the process is open.
"So far, I think public confidence in that is diminishing daily," Saunders said.
"The more you try to hide things away â€” the more you try to protectinformation from the public â€” the further away you get from being atruly public inquiry," she added.
Some of the inaccessible information includes critical evidence.
For example, on Tuesday, those attending the hearing listened asvictim Albert Roy took the stand and explained how, at age 16, he wasabused by his probation officer.
Lawyers are expected to enter numerous police and governmentdocuments about what was done to stop the man from committing morecrimes against young boys â€” but neither the media nor the publicwill see what is in them.
Pierre Dumais, a lawyer for the commission supervising the inquiry, said there is a good reason for that.
"A lot of these exhibits contain confidential information," he said.
Victims' identities 'central': lawyer
Some news media, including the CBC, have expressed concern that evenimportant information cannot be released because of the large number ofpublication bans in place.
Tony Wong, a lawyer for the CBC, argued in a submission to theinquiry that the bans protecting the identities of the victims are toobroad, considering how important it is to know who the victims are inorder to achieve the inquiry's goals.
"Knowing who the victims are is central to determining how and wherethe gaps exist and where resources â€” both monetary and otherwise â€”should be directed," the submission said. It added that the disclosuresometimes helps the victims heal.
The submission requests that publication bans not be imposed on theidentities of victims who have already been identified in public, whohave told the media or commissioner that they agree to be identified,or are deceased.
Justice Normand Glaude, the commissioner presiding over the inquiry,is expected to rule next week on a number of motions concerning therelease of information, including the identities of victims.
The second phase of the inquiry, which involves testimony from the alleged victims, started in the fall.
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