23 September 2010
By BOB VAILLANCOURT THE SUDBURY STAR
The province’s highest court is scheduled to hear an appeal from Roman Catholic Priest Bernard Cloutier of his conviction and five-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting four young boys more than quarter century ago.
Cloutier was found guilty in July of 10 of 16 charges he was facing.
The Ontario Court of Appeal will hear the appeal Oct. 28.
Cloutier’s sentence of five years, imposed in November, was less than the eight years the Crown had been seeking, but was more than double the two years suggested by the defence.
Cloutier was convicted of four counts each of indecent assault and gross indecency, as well as two counts of sexual assault.
In each case, Cloutier befriended the boys and became close friends with their parents. He was, said Superior Court Justice Paul Kane who heard the trial, “a trusted and frequent guest in their homes.”
Cloutier was a local leader of the church and as such held incredible persuasive power, Kane said. But “he abused his position of trust for his own sexual gratification.”
The four victims, who ranged in age from 12 to 17 years at the time of the assaults, expressed relief after the trial and sentencing was over.
The four, along with family and friends, watched as Cloutier was led from the courtroom in handcuffs, following last fall’s sentencing hearing.
“It’s like a weight has been lifted,” said one of the victims, none of whom can be named because of a court order.
Even before the sentence was handed down, his lawyer had already filed his intention to appeal.
Cloutier was friendly and generous to the boys, endearing the friendships with gifts and providing them access to adult privileges, including alcohol, said Kane.
He preyed upon the young boys at a time when their sexual identity was still developing. Some of the assaults were over a period of years, he said.
Cloutier did not use threats of violence with the boys, Kane said. Instead, he used his power and position in the church.
Cloutier’s assaults were “actions not simply of adult male, but rather someone who held an elevated position of his church, which is an internationally recognized religious institution.”
Cloutier had the power of a priest to the parents of these boys who were devote Catholics and whose strong and lifelong beliefs impacted on their daily lives.
The role of the priest “was not just one of trust. It is one of power and of trust … near mythical power,” said the judge.
In handing down the five years, Kane said, “one must look at the injury, the duration of that injury and the harm” it has caused.