Retired priest guilty of groping boy at Green Valley church in 1976

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

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WARNING: The following story contains details regarding a sexual act on a child, which some readers may find disturbing. Discretion is advised.

CORNWALL – A retired Roman Catholic priest from Quebec, found guilty of indecent assault on an 8-year-old boy in Green Valley in the 1970s, is expected to receive a suspended sentence.

Gilles Deslauriers pleaded not guilty yesterday (Friday) to a single count of indecent assault on a male.

The Crown’s evidence of the case was read into the record by prosecutor Victoria Lazenby while Deslauriers’ defence lawyers – Reem Zaia and Sherif Foda – agreed not to contest the evidence as part of a joint agreement on sentencing.

Defence counsel waived its rights under Section 11(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to a trial within a reasonable time given the outcome Friday. It’s been just over two years since Deslauriers was arrested and charged.

Based on the agreement, Judge Robert Beninger found Deslauriers guilty on one charge based on the Crown’s evidence read into the record.

What happened in 1976

Court heard a man reported a historical sexual assault at the Alexandria OPP detachment in January 2019. The victim, who can’t be identified under a publication ban, was 8 years old when the two assaults took place at the Sainte-Marie-de-l’Assomption Catholic Church on County Road 34 in Green Valley in 1976.

The first assault happened in the sacristy of the church, where the victim recounted wearing brown pants and fearing the accused. “Father Deslauriers touched his private parts over his clothing and further informed him that he wasn’t going to hurt him and not to tell anyone,” Crown Lazenby recounted.

The second incident happened during the same summer in 1976 but this time it occurred in the rectory of the Green Valley church. “(The victim) felt pinned between the sofa in the rectory and Father Gilles Deslauriers. Father Deslauriers then looked into his eyes and said ‘Don’t have fear, I will not hurt you.’ (The victim) attempts to flee but Father Deslauriers strong arm, holds him back, and with force. Father Deslauriers touched his private parts over his summer shorts,” Lazenby read.

The sentencing hearing was conducted through a French interpreter.

While Deslauriers was originally charged with two counts of indecent assault on a male, the finding of guilt on one count covering both assaults would allow for the Crown and defence to have a national sex offender registry designation for 20 years. Two convictions automatically triggers a lifetime designation on the sex offender registry.

Crown, defence make points on sparing victim from testifying at a trial

Crown attorney Victoria Lazenby says the public will view this as a lenient sentence given the significant breach of trust by the priest. But she noted putting an elderly and ill person in jail would be “challenging in these COVID times.” Lazenby added that while Deslauriers did not take responsibility, the result does save the victim from having to testify at trial.

A victim impact statement read before the court shows the victim suffers from fear of authority figures, shame for what happened to him, and the ordeal has affected his intimacy with his female partner since memories of the assault resurfaced in January 2018. He was diagnosed with major depression, has recurring migraines and has spent over $10,000 on medication and counselling.

Deslauriers’ lawyer, Reem Zaia, says her client has no friends or family, doesn’t have a cell phone or a computer, and can barely move from his home except for essential services anyway due to poor leg circulation. He limps and uses a cane for walking, she said. Zaia added that this resolution should be a mitigating factor in the case because it spared the victim the “rigors of cross examination” as many as three times in a preliminary hearing and a trial, especially during a pandemic.

Deslauriers, 85, lives in Vercheres, Que., with a roommate who is also a retired priest. He was part of the former Alexandria-Cornwall Catholic Diocese from 1970 for several decades.

Judge needs time for sentencing

While saying he agrees with the joint submission, Judge Robert Beninger deferred making the official judgment on sentence to allow time to come up with remarks to “explain why I’m going to follow the joint submission.”

The case will be heard again next month to set a date where Beninger will give his reasons for the suspended sentence.

“I can say this to all concerned, I would have liked to finish this case today. The proceeding has taken a bit longer during the day than might have been originally expected and I don’t want to feel like I am rushed as far as preparing some brief decisions in what is a very important matter,” Beninger said.

Based on the Crown’s submission, the suspended sentence will see Deslauriers on probation for two years but he won’t have to report to a probation officer. There are conditions that he not be within 500 meters of the victim or other family members and is not allowed to work or volunteer in a position where he is in a position of trust for someone 16 years old or younger.

He will be on the national sex offender registry for 20 years. He will be banned from owning or having weapons for 10 years and will have to submit a DNA sample to the court.