Catholic bishop enters custody at Ottawa courthouse after pleading guilty to importing child pornography

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Ottawa Citizen

04 May 2011

By Andrew Seymour, The Ottawa Citizen,  May 4, 2011 6:02 PM

 

Former bishop Raymond Lahey, right, arrives at the Ottawa courthouse May 4, 2011, with his lawyer Michael Edelson for the start of his trial on child-porn charges. Lahey pleaded guilty to importing child pornography.

Former bishop Raymond Lahey, right, arrives at the Ottawa courthouse May 4, 2011, with his lawyer Michael Edelson for the start of his trial on child-porn charges. Lahey pleaded guilty to importing child pornography.

Photograph by: Chris Mikula, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — In an extraordinary move, a Catholic bishop who admitted to importing graphic images and videos of child sexual abuse asked a judge to jail him Wednesday, voluntarily beginning to serve a sentence that will last at least a year.

Raymond Lahey, 70, looked back into the courtroom and seemed to take a deep breath before pulling the door to the prisoner’s dock closed behind him and letting himself be led into the back hallway that leads to the cells of the Elgin Street courthouse.

Lahey’s detention followed an admission by the man who once oversaw a historic Nova Scotia child sex-abuse settlement that he had tried to bring 588 child pornography images along with 60 videos and numerous stories featuring themes of humiliation, degradation, torture and slavery of young boys into the country following a trip abroad in September 2009.

Prosecutors said Lahey was travelling alone when he landed at the Ottawa airport on Sept. 15, 2009, on a flight from London, England. His passport showed he had visited Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Germany since 2005.

Lahey was calm, friendly and forthcoming when he approached a customs agent, but his demeanour soon changed when she repeatedly asked if he had any electronic devices, including a laptop computer, according to an agreed statement of facts.

“He was somewhat nervous, quiet, hesitant and avoided eye contact,” said Crown prosecutor David Elhadad.

Lahey was sent for a secondary inspection, where another customs agent discovered three images of naked young males, including some engaged in sexual acts. He was also carrying a small blue bag containing “personal sex toys,” according to Elhadad.

An Ottawa police investigator then found about a dozen more images of pre-pubescent young males, including one as young as eight. Some were engaged in sex acts with adults.

At the time of his initial arrest, Lahey denied having an interest in child pornography. However, he admitted he had an attraction to young males, particularly around the age of 20 or 21, but also those in their 30s and 40s.

Lahey’s computer was seized and he was allowed to leave. He stepped down from his job as bishop in Antigonish, N.S., the next day. A Canada-wide warrant for his arrest was issued a month later.

Ottawa police Det. Andrew Thompson testified that a forensic examination of Lahey’s laptop included a review of his Internet searches for terms used by those interested in child pornography. Lahey searched for “Lolita” once, but searched the word “twink,” slang for a young-looking gay male, 1,182 times, Thompson testified.

Thompson testified that Lahey’s browsing history revealed visits to three websites featuring images that were “close to child pornography,” showing boys in their early teens.

The facts were read after a stone-faced Lahey, his arms crossed in front of him, entered his plea in a clear voice.

Lahey could have remained free on bail, but his lawyer Michael Edelson said his client felt deep and profound remorse for what he had done and wanted to start serving his sentence immediately.

Lahey is facing a mandatory minimum sentence of a year in jail, although Crown prosecutors indicated they might seek a longer term. It was not clear whether Lahey might try to seek extra credit for the time spent in jail prior to his actual sentencing, although the Crown said they expected the time would be considered on a one-for-one basis.

Prosecutors asked Ontario Court Justice Kent Kirkland to order a pre-sentence report for Lahey, who was described by assistant Crown attorney Mihael Cole as a “troubled man.”

The judge declined, however, after Edelson argued that prosecutors had intimate details about Lahey’s background from an extensive psychiatric and sexual-behaviour assessment conducted by Dr. John Bradford from the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. Edelson also submitted character references from 11 people who knew Lahey well.

“We have nothing to hide,” Edelson said.

Elhadad said the Crown intends to challenge portions of Bradford’s report and wanted to know what kind of risk Lahey might pose once he is released. Prosecutors also argued that a probation officer could talk to those supervising Lahey.

“A bishop has one supervisor: the Pope,” Edelson said. “The Pope is not going to be taking a call from the probation supervisor.”

Following Lahey’s plea, the Vatican pledged it would take action against Lahey.

The Vatican said it was considering “appropriate disciplinary or penal” action against Lahey — who retains the rank of a bishop emeritus in the church — and condemned child sexual exploitation of all kinds.

In addition to the criminal charges, Lahey is also accused in a civil lawsuit of sexual abuse.

In a statement of claim filed in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Todd Boland alleged former Bishop Raymond Lahey fondled him over his clothes, and that the abuse happened on numerous occasions over several years. The abuse is alleged to have happened in the mid-1980s when Boland was a resident at the infamous Mount Cashel orphanage.

A date for the sentencing hearing is expected to be set May 26.

aseymour@ottawacitizen.com

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