Joseph LeClair, former priest of Blessed Sacrament church in the Glebe, is photographed leaving the Ottawa courthouse on Monday Jan. 20, 2014. LeClair pleaded guilty after he exploited lax bookkeeping to pilfer $130,000 in church funds to fund his gambling debts, according to an agreed statement of facts read out in court. Darren Brown/Ottawa Sun/QMI Agency
Rev. Joseph LeClair will be back before a criminal court judge next week to face impaired driving charges recently issued by the Ontario Provincial Police.
LeClair, 58, the former pastor of Ottawa’s Blessed Sacrament Parish who was jailed in March 2014 for stealing from church coffers, has been in Guelph for the past year. He had been thriving there as associate pastor of Saint Joseph Catholic Church, and had attracted a large and enthusiastic following.
According to an OPP news release, LeClair was pulled over on Highway 6 in Guelph during an evening RIDE program on the Victoria Day long weekend. Officers observed signs that he had been drinking and took him to a local OPP operations centre for further testing.
He was subsequently charged with impaired driving and having an open container of liquor in his car. LeClair was driving the same 2008 Volkswagen Eos convertible that he used in Ottawa.
LeClair is scheduled to make his first appearance on the charges next Tuesday in a Guelph courtroom.
The Citizen contacted Saint Joseph Church and was told that LeClair will be away for the next two weeks.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Ottawa, Deacon Gilles Ouellette, said church officials are aware of the charges, but will not comment on them since the matters remain before the court.
“We will work with Father LeClair to determine the most appropriate way to support him in his journey of recovery,” Ouellette said.
Although assigned to work in Guelph, LeClair remains an official member of the Archdiocese of Ottawa.
LeClair has struggled for years to overcome addictions that took root while he was at Blessed Sacrament.
During his January 2014 sentencing hearing in Ottawa, LeClair’s then-defence lawyer, Matthew Webber, told court that the priest suffered from mounting anxiety due to his workload at the booming parish. That led to heavier drinking — it eventually reached six or eight scotches a night, Webber said, which in turn fuelled his gambling binges at Casino du Lac-Leamy.
In March 2014, LeClair was sentenced to one year in jail and probation. He was released in November of that year and assigned to a Moncton parish but suffered a relapse and was later moved to Guelph.
For years, LeClair was among the best-known priests in Ottawa. A charismatic figure, he made Blessed Sacrament Parish one of the most successful in the city, hosted a Sunday morning radio show, and officiated at many high-profile weddings.
After the Citizen wrote a story that explored his gambling, his debts and his church’s poor financial controls, LeClair denied taking parishioners’ money and denounced the newspaper. Three years later, LeClair admitted to an elaborate course of fraud and theft: He wrote cheques to himself from church accounts, overcharged for his personal expenses, dipped his hand into Sunday collections, and redirected fees for marriage preparation courses to his own account.
An audit revealed that $1.16 million moved through LeClair’s personal bank account between January 2006 and December 2010. About $400,000 of that money could not be explained, court heard, and could not be tied to salary, stipends, gifts or casino winnings.
Following the scandal, the Archdiocese of Ottawa imposed a raft of new financial controls on its churches.