This is a an attempt to recap Father Denis Vaillancourt‘s testimony at his sex assault trial in Cornwall.
The judge in the case is Diane Lahaie. Some of you may recall that Lahaie represented the Ontario Provincial Police at the Cronwall Public Inquiry.
Former Cornwall Crown turned defence lawyer Don Johnson is representing Father Vaillancourt.
Elaine Evans is the Crown attorney.
For reference sake, the following are the past blogs dealing with testimony at the trial:
22 June 2017: BLOG “Why is he saying he’s not guilty?” (this carries a brief overview of the testimony of other witnesses and the OPP videotaped interview of Father Vaillancourt)
20 June 2017: BLOG A little background
16 June 2017: BLOG A painful process
15 June 2017: BLOG But, here we are at trial
13 June 2017: BLOG Day One wrapped up
Before starting on the testimony, a reminder that Father Vaillancourt is a canon lawyer who also served as Chancellor of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall for nearly 30 years . He also headed the committee which came up with the 1995 Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall’s sex abuse guidelines.
TESTIMONY (15 June 2017)
- Attended Cornwall Classical College;
- He was ordained October 1974 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Alexandria;
- On 01 September 1980 he purchased a cottage in Bainsville, Ontario
- Now 71-years-of age;
- Retired 30 June 2015.
- During his examination in chief Father Vaillancourt was asked if he had ever been disciplined as a priest. Vaillancourt replied in the negative. At this the Crown protested that Father Vaillancourt was using this to hide behind a claim of good character. Evans asked that the court permit evidence from a witness who would testify that about 30 years ago he went to confession to Father Vaillancourt and the priest started asking the boy about his, the boy’s, sex life. When the boy asked Vaillancourt what he meant, the priest is alleged to have said something to the effect of ” Are you getting enough?” and ” Do you want more? The 16 June 2017 blog A painful process covers this in a little more detail. Justice Diane Lahaie denied Evan’s request.
Father Vaillancourt’s testimony regarding Labour Day weekend 2015:
- – On 06 September 2015 Craig stopped by Father Vaillancourt’s cottage (Craig testified that he hoped he could go sea-dooing). When Craig arrived, Father Vaillancourt was just coming in off the water;
- – Father Vaillancourt said that he offered Craig a beer and that Craig refused saying he had to drive (Craig testified that Father Vaillnacourt offered him a rye);
- – They talked out in the yard. During that conversation Father Vaillancourt testified that he had asked about Craig’s personal life. When his lawyer Don Johnson asked why he asked such questions Vaillancourt replied that earlier in the summer Craig’s grandmother had told him that Craig is gay (There was no mention of this when Grandma was on the stand, and, in fact, there was no mention by any of the other witnesses that Craig is or thinks he is or might be gay. Craig did testify that he had asked Vaillancourt the year before if it was a sin to be bisexual. That was it. Until Vaillancourt took the stand, that was the sole reference – at least in the courtroom – to Craig’s ‘sexual orientation.’ When Vaillancourt was interviewed by police he was asked why he asked Craig about boyfriends his reply was that he was wondering about Craig’s sex life and that he was curious and concerned. He said that Craig was very comfortable with him, and that a year ago Craig had gone to Father Vaillancourt for confession. );
- Vaillancourt also testified that during this chat he asked about Craig’s health. He did so, he said, because he knew Craig suffered from depression. He also said he asked Craig if he was taking his meds. and Craig said “No.” (There was testimony from other witnesses that Craig suffered from bouts of severe depression) ;
- – According to Father Vaillancourt Craig followed him into the cottage. (According to Craig, Father Vaillancourt invited him in);
- – According to Father Vaillancourt, once inside the cottage Craig stretched out his arms to to Vaillancourt. Vaillancourt testified that he understood from the outstretched arms that Craig wanted a hug (Craig said Father Vaillancourt put his hand on Craig’s shoulder and Craig understood from that gesture that the priest wanted a hug. In his police interview Vaillancourt said he didn’t recall putting his hand on Craig’s shoulder) Vaillancourt said the hug was brief (Craig testified it was longer than a normal hug). Vaillancourt testified that he had never done this before (Craig testified that sometimes after going to confession he would give Father a hug).
That was the first hug;
- There was a second hug. When asked by his lawyer why there was a second hug Vaillancourt replied: “I don’t know.” According to Father Vaillancourt, it was Craig who initiated the second hug (Craig testified that Father Vaillancourt asked for the second hug);
- Father Vaillancourt testified that it was at the beginning of the second hug that Father Vaillancourt made the comments “I miss affection” and “this makes me feel good.” Vaillancourt had explained the former comment in a police interview by saying that he, Vaillancourt, is alone and has no spouse. Under cross examination Vaillancourt agreed with the Crown that the difference between spouse and friends is sex, – but then Vaillancourt added that affection doesn’t necessarily mean sex and he quibbled away about what exactly he meant by the comment;
He asked Craig if Craig’s friends tell him that he, Craig, has a nice body. Vaillancourt tried to explain that comment away as a joke.
He agreed that he had touched Craig’s belly button.
It was during this second hug that Father Vaillancourt said his hands went down and touched “the upper part” of Craig’s buttocks. He insisted that the touch was high up, more like in or close to the small of the back (Craig testified that it was further down – not in the small of the back).
Under cross-examination Vaillancourt said that when he realized what was happening he moved his hands right away.
When the Crown pointed out that Vaillancourt had not asked permission [to touch Craig’s bottom] the priest replied that right afterwards he asked Craig: “Does that bother you?” The Crown told Vaillancourt that that was too late. Vaillancourt replied that it was done accidentally and that he wanted to make amends.
That second hug lasted about 5 seconds. Initially Father Vaillancourt said he didn’t think five seconds was a long time, however, after the Crown literally timed out five seconds on the courtroom clock and pointed out that it actually is a long time Father Vaillancourt seemed to have a change of heart and said that it took him a long time to realize what happened!
He told the court that when he told police in an interview that he knew he had done something wrong he was referring to putting his hands on Craig’s ‘butt”;
- Father Vaillancourt testified that the morning after the incident Grandma arrived at his door saying that she wanted to talk to him. According to Vaillancourt Grandma told him that the prior day Craig had arrived at her place upset and trembling. She said that Craig had told her what had happened, and that she believed him. He said that Grandma confronted him and asked: “Did you touch his butt?”;
Grandma, he said, told him that Craig had told his mother and his father what had happened. When he heard that, he testified, he wanted to call Craig’s Mom “to apologize” for having his hands on Craig’s “butt”;
- -There was a second visit from Grandma. Vaillancourt testified that during the second visit Grandma asked if Father Vaillancourt had told Craig that he, Craig ‘has a big one’? On the witness stand Vaillancourt did not deny posing the question, but he testified that that was a joke. He said that for him it was a joke, and he didn’t expect an answer from Craig;
- When he was asked in his examination-in-chief if Grandma asked him if liked young men he replied that it was hard for him to remember [if he told her that];
- He denied being attracted to men. When he was asked by the Crown why he told Grandma that he is he replied that he didn’t remember telling her that. When the Crown suggested that there is no way he could forget the conversation with Grandma who was crying and distraught, he countered: “She wasn’t always crying.” When the Crown said it must have been awful for Grandma feeling that she had been betrayed by Vaillancourt he replied “I told her I made a mistake. I felt bad.” Asked what he felt bad about, he said ‘For grabbing Craig’s butt.’
Asked by the Crown if it is shameful to be gay, there was a pause, then “well, society accepts it”;
Call to Mom
- He testified that he called Craig’s Mom. He said it was a short call and that she was agreeable to what he said;
“Bond” of Trust
- Under cross-examination Father Vaillancourt was asked about his role as a priest, in general and in relation to Craig and his family. This turned into a long long drawn out and terribly convoluted process. The priest turned himself inside out to avoid any inference of what the Crown called ‘a bond of trust’ which existed with Craig and his family because Vaillancourt is a priest. He tried his darndes to negate any crossover between his friendship with the family and his vocation as a priest (the word vocation was not used. ) . He tried to insist that being a priest was irrelevant to the bond of trust Grandma placed in him;
- At one point the Crown was addressing the fact that Grandma referred to Father Vaillancourt as Father Vaillancourt. In a flash Vaillancourt shot back and referenced times Grandma called him “Denis”;
- Things got tense. At one point Father Vaillancourt lost his cool completely. With voice raised and face flushed he pointed his finger at Evans: “”You’re putting words in my mouth.” The enraged priest alternately wagged his finger at the Crown and banged the podium. Sad to say, it was a sight to behold;
- Not only was there an attempt by Father Vaillancourt to downplay his role as a priest in his interactions with the family, he tried his darnedest to put his friendship with Craig at arm’s length. And so, when he was asked if he considered Craig his friend, he replied “No” – and then he went on to explain his response by saying alternately that Craig ” is not my age,” “we don’t share the same outlook on life,” and, that in 2015 “I had just retired and he was still in school.”
When he was essentially asked if he would agree that his friendship with the family was impacted by the fact that he is a priest he replied: “I guess”
Asked if he agreed that Craig looked up to him, he replied : “I suppose so.”;
- Father Vaillancourt testified that Craig had gone to him for confession “two or three times.” When the Crown raised a question related to the fact that Craig said he had asked Father Vaillancourt if it is a sin to be bisexual, Vaillancourt blurted out something to the effect of: ‘Your honour, I can’t answer this question. She’s trying to make me break the seal of confession. She’s trying to make me. I can not do that.’
A short discussion ensued. The Crown asked Vaillancourt to confirm that 18-year-old Craig asked Vaillancourt if it is a sin to be bisexual. ” No comment.” Vaillancourt then made another comment about not breaking the seal of confession, at which point the Crown said curtly: “You already broke it “! (Craig testified that he had asked Father the question the year before the incident at the cottage. We were never told if that question was or was not posed during confession. )
When the Crown suggested that the matter of bisexuality was a an issue of concern for Craig in 2015: No comment.
When the Crown made reference to Vaillancourt’s testimony that Grandma told him that Craig was gay, the priest grinned and replied “That’s different.” Vaillancourt testified that he had no problem revealing that information because he didn’t hear it in confession.
When the Crown suggested that he had counselled Craig about being gay or bisexual Vallancourt replied that he never counselled Craig apart from confession. However the Crown then referenced Father Vaillancourt’s police interview in which Vaillancourt told the officer that he, Vaillancourt: was always trying to encourage Craig; had asked Craig questions about his, Craig’s, sex life and about swallowing [semen]; had asked Craig how long it had been since he, Craig, had had sex; and, he was trying to accept who Craig was. When the Crown finished, Father Vaillancourt said: “I should have added that I was not judgmental.” And then, shortly thereafter, Father Vaillancourt told the Crown that he had counselled Craig regarding his, Craig’s, well being and his lifestyle, and said he suggested to Craig that Craig should be more careful. In another exchange he agreed that he would provide advice or counsel to Craig “like anyone would do” adding that he knew Craig had bouts of depression.
There was actually some back and forth regarding the fact that Craig suffered from depression, with Father Vaillancourt denying that Craig had told him about his depression and it’s impact on is life. According to Vaillancourt, it was Grandma who told him about the depression and the severe impact it had on Craig’s life;
When the Crown said that he, Vaillancourt, has a sacred status derived from the fact that he is a priest, and that he always has that sacred status, he replied: “I suppose so.” He then agreed with the Crown that he has to very careful when dealing with the vulnerable. And he agreed that he therefore has to be very careful about not using information he attains as a priest to his own advantage;
- In due course Father Vaillancourt agreed that he is a person in a position of trust, but, literally within minutes said that “because of the age difference between us I didn’t view it as a position of trust.” When the Crown queried that response, Vaillancourt replied: ‘I suppose I am in a position of trust “;
The Crown queried why he would mention age difference, whereupon the priest replied that he had difficulty understanding the definition of the word “trust” so he didn’t really know how to respond.
When the Crown then suggested that Father Vaillancourt was referring to the Criminal Code and distancing himself from the legal definition he responded “I don’t know.” When the Crown asked if he, Vallancourt, would be in more of a position of trust if Craig was age 16 or 17, Vaillancourt asked: “Could you define the word for me?” He then agreed that someone confiding in him for help or advice has nothing to do with age, and he agreed that he was thinking of the legal definition.
Finally, after endless tap dancing around, Father Vaillancourt agreed that Craig would have trusted him, and that that trust would have stemmed in part from his friendship with the family and in part because Craig had confided in Father Vaillancourt;
- He told the Crown he could not recall telling Grandma that he was unable to sleep that night
- He told the Crown he did not see the pat on the belly as a sexual
- Father Vaillancourt became fidgety and nervous when the Crown turned to his response to the police officer query “did you enjoy it?’ And, “What was it you enjoyed about it?’ questions turned to his enjoyment of the interaction with Craig.
Father Vaillancourt seemed to become uncomfortable when the Crown referred to a portion of the OPP videotaped interview in which the officer asked if Father Vaiillancorut enjoyed the five second hug. Ihe Crown described a long pause, and then Vaillancourt laughed, and then he said ‘perhaps.’ The officer then asked “what was it you enjoyed about it?”
When the Crown reached this point in referencing the tape Father Vaillancourt began to fidget with his glasses . He explained the difficulties of being interviewed, and then explained that the long pause was: ‘because I wanted to be sure I gave the right answer.’!!!
The Crown suggested that if he was really sure he would have known the answer.
It was “nervous and stressful” said the priest.
The logical answer, said the Crown in turn, would be: “I enjoyed nothing.” And back came Father Vaillancourt to say in essence that he disagreed, and that “when I realized what was happening I removed my hands
- Ah yes, and when the Crown asked why he told Craig’s Mom that he, Father Vaillancourt, had been sexually abused. Vaillancourt replied that he told Grandma. The Crown suggested that he told both Mom and Grandma. He didn’t recall. The Crown asked why did he tell them? Silence! Then, said the priest, in that contact he had made a foolish gesture.
The Crown suggested that he told them to make it a ‘this happened to me therefore I did it to him’ move. Vaillancourt: “That’s not the way I saw it.’
The Crown suggested that he said it perhaps as a way to get them to feel sorry for him, the same way he had talked about ‘poor me, I didn’t get any sleep [the night after the incident]’
The Crown suggested that he thought that if he told them they would understand why it happened. To that Vaillancourt initially he replied “No.” Then there was a “maybe,” and then an “I don’t know.”
And on that note,
Enough for now,