[Please note: There are a few pieces of information required to round out the story. I am awaiting callbacks. As soon as I get the answers to my questions I will make note and amend]
This is about the skateboarder /hitchhiker who alleged he was sexually assaulted by Father Michael Mullins as they drove down the Queensway (Hwy 417) in the wee hours of the morning, 19 August 1989 .
And about Mullins, the Irish priest serving in the Archdiocese of Ottawa. Mullins, chaplain to theGloucesterpolice force. (Gloucester, now part of thenew cityofOttawa, was then a city on the suburbs of Ottawa)
It’s also of necessity about Mullins’ 12 September 1990 acquittal, and the judge who wasn’t about to take the word of a skateboarder.
And it’s about Mullins July 1991 sentencing to eight years in jail – in his native Ireland – for beating and sexually assaulting a 17-year-old Irish boy.
It’s about the damage done by Father Michael Mullins and those who rallied to his defence.
I always thought Mullins ‘got off’ here in Ottawa.
I have thought of “the skateboarder” so often over the past 20 years. I often thought how difficult it must have been for a lad of 18 to be so publicly demeaned by a judge and essentially called a liar, because, well, just because he happened to be a skateboarder.
A few days ago I heard from the skateboarder. He agreed to talk to me.
I was told that the skateboarder has been variously spat upon and jeered at by Roman Catholics, demeaned by a judge, lied about by private investigators, and deemed a liar by family and friends. He twice attempted suicide. He dropped out of high school. Amazing as it may seem, the skateboarder still at times feels guilty that Mullins’ acquittal in Ottawa allowed him, Mullins, to head over to Ireland and beat up and molest that boy.
More amazing, and perhaps most amazing, there was an apology from the judge. Yes, from the judge who acquitted Mullins here in Ottawa..
An actual apology from the judge. A telephone call. Private. Personal. Nothing public. Nothing to redeem Scott’s name.
Yes, it’s been a rough, painful and lonely road for Scot Wharram, the skateboarder.
The sordid saga began when Scot was back in Ottawa visiting. He and his family had lived in the Ottawa area before. He was visiting. He had gone to the exhibition. He had missed all the buses. He needed to get to Carleton Place.
Seventeen-year-old Scot decided to hitchhike. He was in the area of Bank St. and Isabella – close to the on-ramp onto the Queensway, the highway which runs through the nation’s capital.
Along came Father Michael Mullins. It was about 1:15 am.
Mullins offered Scot a ride, at least part way to Carleton Place.
There was nothing to indicate Mullins was a priest. In fact, he outright lied to the boy. Mullins said his name was Peter, and that he was from Montreal. (Scot, by the way, is not and never was Roman Catholic.)
Scot hopped in the car.
Barely did Mullins establish on the Queensway than the advances and assaults started.
Mullins reached over and rubbed Scot’s chest. “He told me how muscular I was. He told me how attractive I was.” He rubbed Scot’s leg.
He asked what Scot thought of him.
It continued. Hand into Scot’s crotch. I asked no more on the assault.
Scot was mortified. Terrified. “It’s hard to put into words what goes through your mind at a time like that. ..I was sure I was dead.” He thought he would be a statistic. “I was catatonic.”
We know from media coverage that the car was driving slowly and weaving erratically down the highway. Around Pinecrest Road Mullins was pulled over by Nepean police.
Did Mullins say anything to Scot before police arrived at the side of the car?
I ask. Yes. Yes indeed he did. According to Scot, Mullins told him in no uncertain terms: “Keep your f—–n’ mouth shut.”
Scot had been told to keep his mouth shut. Initially, for a variety of reasons, he said not a word. Then, thankfully, an officer took him aside to question him privately.
Scot broke down. He blurted out what had been happening.
He still had not a clue that Mullins/”Pete” was a Roman Catholic priest. It was only during police interviews that he found out. An officer asked him when he found out Mullins was a priest? He replied that he didn’t know he was priest.. That’s how he found out.
Mullins was charged that same day, Saturday 19 August 1989.
Of interest is the fact that Mullins failed the breathalyser and had his license suspended for 12 hours.
And, of note, particularly in light of the many negative stories we have been reading about police of late, Scot thought very highly of two of the officers who dealt with him. He wishes he knew who they were so that he could thank them. He does recall that one of the officers was reprimanded for the way he treated Mullins. Scot tells me that the officer “roughed him [Mullins] up a bit.”
By Tuesday 22 August the media was reporting on the Archdiocese of Ottawa’s “swift decision to investigate a priest from nearby Gloucester charged with sexual assault.”
The Archbishop of the day, Joseph Aurele Plourde, announced a “commission of inquiry to investigate Rev. Michael Muillins.” According to canon law guru Father Frank Morrissey omi, the latter action followed new guidelines for dealing with sexual assault and was proof that Plourde was taking the matter seriously. Morrissey also indicated this would give Mullins a chance to be heard.
The four-member commission included Msgr. Roger Morin (chancellor of the diocese), Adrian Hewitt (a lawyer), Dr. Jean-Yves Gosselin ( director of in-patient psychiatric services at the Ottawa General Hospital) and an as yet unnamed health professional.
The commission was to set out “to find the facts.” They planned to meet with the victim.
What kind of investigation was conducted? Well, that’s top secret. Barring disclosure in a court case or lawsuit the report of the commission’s activities will never see the light of day.
I can tell you though what, in very short order, Scot was going through in his home-town of Cobourg, Ontario.
Scot was under investigation. That’s a fact. An investigation was under way in Cobourg. And it was Scot who being investigated.
According to Scot, there were two private investigators either on the phones and/or buzzing around the community.. They were contacting his family. They were contacting his friends. They were at his school, both his high school and the public school he had attended..
As Scot tells it, they were looking ‘for dirt’ on him. Anything.
I’d say the real dirt lay in the PI’s tactics and the malicious rumours they were spreading about Scot.
Now this is dirty. Really dirty….
According to Scot, the PIs used two different lines, one was geared more for friends and acquaintances, and the other for family who would not be inclined to go for the first story.
The one line was that Scot was in relationship with a man, and the pair had been living together, and they had had a lover’s quarrel, and Scot had been thrown out, and Scot had him arrested to get back at him.
False. Not a whiff of truth. For want of a better word, a lie.
The other line was that Scot was a male prostitute who was trying to get money out of the man.
False. Again, not a whiff of truth. Again, for want of a better word, a lie.
Both stories were planted and put into circulation.
The PI’s contacted staff at his former public school, Dale Road Public School. To Scott’s absolute amazement, the principal and other teachers had actually talked to them. Scot phoned the school board to complain that the principal and teachers at the public school had talked to private investigators. The board, on behalf of the school, denied it. Scot knew it was fact. He had the court transcripts and saw their names and what they had to say. He told them so. But, it was done.
On the other hand, the principal at his high school told the investigators to leave. That was good. But, the ruthless and relentless investigators took to hanging around the school, loitering on the sidewalks talking to anyone they could commandeer to get whatever ‘dirt’ they could dig up on Scot.
To add insult to Scot’s injury at this time, in short order everyone in Cobourg knew he was the youth alleging he had been assaulted by the Ottawa priest. There was supposed to be a ban on publication of his name, but, unfortunately for him, the media referred to an 18 year-old skate-boarder from Cobourg. Scott tells me with a wry laugh: “I was the only 18-year-old skateboarder in Cobourg.”
Between what was in the media and what the PI’s were planting the word was spreading that Scot had a fling with a priest and was having him charged to get back at him.
How does anyone, let alone an 18-year-old boy, defend himself against such mud slinging or refute such lies?
Anyway, it was all more than Scot could take. He was harassed. He was beaten. He stopped going to school. He was eventually asked to leave school because of his absenteeism.
He never went back to school. “That,” he tells me ” was my biggest regret, that I never went back.”
Through it all, Scot was alone.
His parents wanted nothing to do with any of this.
Yes, Scot was alone. Totally alone.
That bridge with his parents has been crossed in the intervening years, but, the assault is not discussed. Even after Mullins was convicted in Ireland there was no discussion on the matter. Perhaps it’s a case of the parents not quite knowing what to do or what to say?
Twenty years later and it still hurts. It’s painful. Scot doesn’t say so, but, I hear it in his voice.
Scot was on his own going to court. Totally alone. He found his way from home to the train station in Cobourg, Ontario alone. He travelled to Ottawa alone. He checked into a hotel in Ottawa alone. He attended the preliminary hearings on his own. He attended the trial on his own. He was on his own in the courthouse.
Court is hard for any victim, never mind an 18-year-old boy who has been what can only described as the object of a cruel smear campaign..
He was referred to in court as a punk-rocker, but he tells me that actually he was never a punker. He did always want to look a little different and dress a little different, but felt his dress was more goth with the black clothing appropriately torn. At one time he sported a mohawak. He bleached his hair blonde. He spiked his hair. His style, he tells me, was actually skate punk.
Scot wore a suit for court.
Father Mullins’ supporters were gathered outside the courthouse.
They spat on him. These ‘good’ Catholics actually spat on him! They spat on him, and jeered at him. Scot was literally afraid they were going to kill him. Thankfully, when court authorities realized what was happening they made alternate arrangements for his entry into the building.
In court it was Mullins’ supporters, and a whole front row of people whom Scot thought were probably Church officials from the diocesan centre. He doesn’t know for sure, but he thinks that’s who they were.
And, there was Scot. In the courtroom. Alone.
Did he perhaps call some former friends in Ottawa who might support him?
I wonder about that. I ask. No. No, is the answer. He called no one. He was too ashamed.
It was trial by judge. No jury.
The Crown attorney was Mac Lindsay (Malcolm Lindsay).
Scot, incidentally, thinks the world of Lindsay. Lindsay, he says, believed him. And Lindsay, he tells me, was upset that Scot was there at the hearings and trial alone.
Scot doesn’t recall the name of Mullins’ lawyer. I am searching. (If anyone can help please email me at [email protected] I will eventually find it, and have several feelers out in various places, but, it’s taking time)
The judge at trial was Justice Edward Houston.
Houston, it turns out, had caused an uproar in 1986 for handing out suspended sentences to two child molesters. The Sexual Support Centre in Ottawa sent a letter to Judge William Lyon, chief judge of Ontario district courts, specifically requesting that Houston not be given any more cases involving sexual assault.
But, sad to say, there was Houston on the bench.
According to Scot, Mullins had admitted the assault to a police officer. That evidence was excluded. Scot thought it was because of Mullins’ Miranda Rights, however we don’t have Miranda Rights in Canada but we do have Charter Rights. I gather it must have been a technicality based on violation of his Charter rights? Whatever the reason, for some technical reason Mullin’s documented acknowledgement of guilt was excluded.
There was also evidence from the arresting officers that Mullins was not wearing undershorts. He was wearing Bermuda shorts. And a T-shirt. But, undies? No..
Scot refers to Mullins’ lawyer as “a ruthless bastard.” But, he does not understand how he (the lawyer) got Mullins off. He recalls no defence per se which would have gotten him off. He doesn’t recall the lawyer calling him a liar. He has no idea how it happened.
He does recall Justice Houston saying that he wasn’t about to be the first to convict a priest. If Scot’s memory on this is accurate, that was a strange comment indeed. Ottawa priest Father Dale Crampton had been convicted right here in Ottawa in 1986. There was no lack of publicity in that case.
Scot also recalls a big point being made of the fact that he was a punk rocker and had bleached blond hair, and he recalls that it was in that vein someone in court said “don’t be fooled by the suit he’s wearing.”
And then, there was much ado about Scot not telling police for about 15 minutes that Mullins was assaulting him in the car.
We know that Mullins had threatened him to keep his mouth shut. Whether or not that came into evidence or Scot thought of it when he was on the stand I don’t know, but what did come out, according to media reports, was that Scot said he hadn’t told police about the assault immediately because he was shy and embarrassed about what had happened.
Mullins was acquitted.
According to the media, Justice Houston
said the young man showed no shyness during his testimony …and that, in his experience, skateboarders are seldom shy.
Houston didn’t believe the boy.
Scot recalls Houston saying something to the effect that “in his experience the word of a skateboarder carries no weight.”
Twenty years later, it still hurts: “He called me a liar in front of everyone.”
Mullins was foot-loose-and-fancy-free. His one comment to the media was: “I believe the judge was correct in his decision.”
Over in Ireland
On the heels of the acquittal the Ottawa Archdiocese packed Mullins off for treatment somewhere, presumably in the States, and, presumably to deal with a drinking problem.
Around May 1991, in the midst of his “treatment,” Mullins was keen for a break to head over to Ireland for a visit. The word in Ottawa was he was going for a little rest and relaxation in his homeland to recuperate from the rigours of the trial.
Whatever the reason, the new archbishop of Ottawa, Marcel Gervais, agreed!
Away Mullins went.
September 1991 Mullins was back in court – in Ireland– convicted for the beating and sexual assault of a 17-year-old boy.
Spokesman for the archdiocesan Father Pat Powers said the Ottawa archdiocese had reopened a special inquiry into Mullins conduct. He said it was ”a tragic mistake in hindsight” to grant Mullins permission to go to Ireland. He also said the archdiocese did not feel responsible.
Did Scot hear of the conviction? Indeed he did.
From none other than Justice Houston’s office.
There was more.
As Scott tells me: “the funniest thing was, it was a call from the judge’s office and the judge apologised to me”
Do you believe it?
The judge’s office called to let Scot know that Mullins had been charged and convicted. And the judge got on the phone himself ……to apologize!
According to Scot, Houston said that his verdict in the Mullins trial had always left a bad taste in his mouth, and that he felt bad for how he had acted, and that he would have acted differently if he had to do it all over again, and that he wanted to apologize, and he hoped Scot felt exonerated.
It was a private call. A quiet apology to a man Houston obviously felt he had misjudged and wronged.
I tried to get in touch in Justice Houston. He died some time ago.
I have no reason to disbelieve Scot. In fact, I believed him 100% when he told me that Houston apologized. I will add that I don’t think Scot has the slightest idea how very rare and unique such phone-call and apology is.
When I think about it I can see that it was probably a tough phone call for Houston to make. And I wonder if he felt at least partially responsible for the abuse that boy in Cork, Ireland endured at Mullins hands? That aside, I’d say he obviously felt badly that he had acquitted Mullins. I’d also say that he obviously felt badly at the way he dealt with Scot.
But, what good was such a private apology to a young man now deemed a liar, with a reputation in tatters and life in utter turmoil?
Did Scot feel exonerated by the apology? I don’t know that he did.
I do know that Scot did NOT feel exonerated by Mullins’ conviction in Ireland. He was happy to hear that he was convicted, but that did not make him feel exonerated. Not at all. He was already branded a liar, and the conviction in Ireland, he felt, was no proof of the assault against him.
The newspapers called after Mullins’ conviction. They wanted to publish his name He wasn’t ready for that. He just was not ready to go public.
In fact, Scot wasn’t ready to be identified until now.
He doesn’t mind his name being published. “Maybe it would help someone” he tells me “I’ve dealt with it. I’m not trying to kill myself anymore. I’m not in a three-year depression.”
He was surprised to to learn that Mullins did not murder that boy. For all of these years he thought the boy had been murdered. He is relieved to learn that is not the case.
As strange as it may sound, there is a little part of Scot which feels responsible for that boy’s abuse. I ask how he could possibly think he was in any way responsible? I am surprised at the answer: He berates himself for his appearance in court: He thinks he was judged on how he looked. “I could have been more presentable” he tells me. He thinks that had he been more presentable the verdict would have been different.
Sad indeed that such a message was conveyed to an 18-year-old in our courts, and, by a judge.
Scot wonders now what Mullins’ parishioners in Ottawa thought when they found out their former priest had been charged and convicted in Ireland.
And, he says he has tried countless times over the years to find out what happened to Mullins. He truly wanted to discover that Mullins was dead:. “I was hoping the son of a bitch would be killed in jail.”
A few days ago he found Sylvia’s Site.
He’s never really talked about all of this before to anyone. It’s a big step.
The whole ordeal cost him a lot. “I felt like the most hated man in the world,.” he tells me.
He thinks being alone was the worst part.