Northern News Services
Inuvik (Aug 20/04) – More than 40 years after police first uncovered widespread sexual abuse at an Inuvik residential school, a 67-year-old former dorm supervisor has been convicted of assaulting several students.
Martin Houston pleaded guilty to one count of buggery (sodomy) and two counts of indecent assault Tuesday in a Yellowknife courtroom. On a joint recommendation of the Crown attorney’s office and his defence team, a Supreme Court Justice sentenced him to three years of probation.
The abuse stretched from August 1960 to June 1962, when Houston was working as a supervisor at Inuvik’s Grollier Hall, a residential school run by the Catholic Church.
A hushed courtroom listened as Crown attorney John Cliffe described the assaults, while Houston sat stone-faced at the defence table. The elderly Houston, wearing thick glasses and suffering from diabetes, entered a barely audible guilty plea to all three charges.
He admitted to having anal intercourse with one of the victims — a 13-year-old orphan boy — at least five times during the 1960-61 school year.
On one occasion, he gave the boy caps for a toy gun following anal sex; on another he rewarded him with a candy bar, pop and a pen.
Following one of the assaults Houston told the boy: “This is what adults do” and asked him not to repeat what happened. When the same boy was about to leave at the end of the school year, Houston said: “I will always remember you.”
“Every day since this happened, I remember what he did to me,” the victim wrote in a letter to the court. “I drink to try to forget what happened to me, but drinking only makes me angry.”
In addition to the buggery charges, Houston admitted to fondling two other boys during the 1960-61 and 1961-62 school years. One boy said Houston would “examine” young boys as they stepped out of the shower — a process that consisted of the then 23-year-old touching his victim’s penises and anuses.
The abuse led the victim to contemplate suicide, going so far as to place a loaded gun in his lap, Crown attorney Noel Sinclair read in a victim impact statement.
The other victim told police Houston fondled his genitals and attempted anal intercourse, only to ejaculate on his backside.
“I drank to forget what happened to me. I became a person I never wanted to be,” the victim said via teleconference from Inuvik.
The man — who has since stopped drinking — also said the years of abuse plagued many of his friends, some of whom took their own lives.
“I know you’re the reason for this. You’re still affecting my life,” he said.
At the end of his address, the man forgave Houston for the years of abuse and said he hoped to move on with his life.
“I say today, Martin Houston, I forgive you. I hope you never enter my thoughts again.”
Tuesday’s convictions mark the second time Houston has been sentenced in connection with sexual abuse at Grollier Hall. In 1962, he was arrested in Ottawa after driving cross country with a student from the Inuvik residential school and charged with possession of obscene material. Following an investigation, police charged Houston with five more counts of buggery and five counts of gross indecency.
Today, all of the charges against Houston would fall under the umbrella of sexual assault. Crown attorneys proceeded with charges as they existed at the times of the offences.
Houston eventually pleaded guilty to all 10 charges and was labelled a dangerous sexual offender. He was given an indefinite sentence and served nine years in a federal penitentiary before being released on parole.
Tuesday, Cliffe said the relatively harsh sentence doled in 1962 played a role in his decision to recommend a suspended sentence for the latest charges.
“In effect, he was given the maximum sentence possible,” Cliffe said. “If the latest charges had been included (in the 1962 prosecution) his punishment would not have changed,” he said.
Following his release from prison in 1971, Houston worked as a bookkeeper before being laid off during an economic downturn. In 1975 while living in Selkirk, Man., he was convicted of gross indecency and put on probation for two years. He exposed himself in his front window and masturbated while a group of elementary school students walked by.
Houston’s defence lawyer Richard Wolson said his client was “sick” at the time of those crimes, but had since turned his life around.
“He is a different person today,” Wolson told the court. “He is completely reformed.”
Houston entered a Catholic seminary in the mid 1980s and was ordained as a priest in 1990. Church officials knew about his criminal history at the time of his ordination.
When Houston’s past was made public a few years later, he was forced to resign his post as head of a church in Carman, Man.
Houston is currently living free of charge at the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface in Winnipeg, Man.
He received several letters of support from former parishioners and the Archbishop of Saint Boniface, who lauded his volunteer work and efforts within the community. “He now does the work of the Lord,” Wolson said.
In handing down the sentence, Lutz agreed with lawyers that Houston does not present an immediate danger to the public.
For the duration of the probation order, he will be required to stay away from children under 18 unless accompanied by an adult. He must also regularly report to a probation officer. If he violates those conditions, he could be sent to jail for the duration of the suspended sentence.
Houston is one of four former Grollier Hall supervisors to face charges of sexual abuse stretching back to the 1960s and 1970s. Paul Leroux, Jean Joseph Comeau and George Maczynski were tried and convicted in 1996 and 1997.
The publicity surrounding those trials led more of Houston’s victims to come forward, said Cliffe.