‘A sordid soap opera’

A New Brunswick inquiry into sexual abuse reveals a shameful legacy

JOHN DeMONT July 18 1994

‘A sordid soap opera’

A New Brunswick inquiry into sexual abuse reveals a shameful legacy

JOHN DeMONT July 18 1994

‘A sordid soap opera’

A New Brunswick inquiry into sexual abuse reveals a shameful legacy

Long before he became a judge, Richard Miller was a crime reporter on the Moncton Times-Transcript in the 1940s. Yet even the most sordid stories he covered then could hardly rival the grim tale that has emerged since he began hearings last November into allegations of sexual and physical abuse at the Kingsclear Youth Training Centre in New Brunswick. Miller maintains that he has made no snap judgments about whether the province’s corrections system failed the teenage boys who were beaten, raped and molested by former youth counsellor Karl Toft and some of his co-workers. Still, staying objective must be hard: Miller has heard the anguish of Toft’s victims, listened to testimony that official complaints about the sexual predator were routinely ignored, and seen evidence hinting at a conspiracy to keep Toft on the streets. Many ordinary New Brunswickers, in truth, probably made up their minds long ago. For them it is simply a question of how far the legacy of shame stretches throughout the province’s correctional and justice systems.

No one disputes the horror of what occurred from 1965 to 1986 behind the training centre’s brick-and-concrete exterior, 10 km west of Fredericton. In 1992, Toft, now 58, pleaded guilty to 34 sex-related crimes and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He wasn’t alone: last September, a Kingsclear maintenance man, Hector Duguay, was sentenced to five months in jail on five sex-related charges. Later this year, Weldon Raymond, a former guard, goes on trial for a series of alleged sex crimes. Police investigators also uncovered allegations that guards viciously beat residents—including one 15-year-old youth who suffered a broken nose, jaw and teeth after being roughed up by three guards. But perhaps the most sensational allegations are that Toft may have been protected at some of the highest levels of the justice system—and that even former New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield, who died in 1991, may have played a role in the scandal.

Miller’s job is daunting: his one-person provincial inquiry is to decide whether the corrections officials and police did all they could to protect their charges—male young offenders aged 12 to 15—while avoiding drawing conclusions about civil or criminal responsibility. After 19 weeks of hearings—which resume on July 18 following a three-week break—his inquiry is methodically filling in the gaps in a story that Miller, a trial judge, has likened to “a sordid soap opera.”

The saga began in 1966, the day Toft, fresh from a stint in the Royal Canadian Air Force, landed a job as a youth counsellor at the training centre. Sometime that year, Toft sexually assaulted a young boy behind locked doors in the school gymnasium. The victim, Robert Parlee, now in his early 40s, told the inquiry that he reported the incident to corrections officials but nothing was done—a troubling pattern that would be repeated over the next two decades. As former Kingsclear counsellor Michael Robinson told the commission: “I think we all failed.”

All told, the inquiry estimates that Toft abused more than 100 Kingsclear residents. Forty-five of his victims have already appeared before Miller, many of them breaking down as they spoke of the awful abuse they suffered and of Toft’s threats if they reported him. He need not have bothered. The truth was that Toft seemed unassailable: even former Kingsclear superintendent William Keyes got nowhere when he begged senior corrections officials in 1972 to transfer Toft to an adult institution after learning of his dismissal as a scout leader when a nude photograph of a member of his troop was found in Toft’s trailer.

The pathetic pattern might have gone on indefinitely had David Forbes not come to work at Kingsclear in 1984. The new youth counsellor had heard stories about Toft’s proclivities—the way he spent virtually all of his free time around the school, and on weekends liked to take his favorite students out of the institution on passes. Even so, a year later, Forbes was shocked to see the hulking counsellor talking to a teenage boy and rubbing a key across the boy’s groin area. Forbes urged the boy and two others who were also the focus of Toft’s unwanted attentions to make written complaints. But Forbes told the inquiry last month that he got nowhere trying to convince Kingsclear superintendent Tom Richards to push for criminal charges against Toft—or when he urged the Fredericton police to lay charges.

His suspicions that nothing would be done were confirmed by the most compelling piece of evidence so far submitted at the inquiry—a 1985 police report that said that a decision not to lay charges was made only after Richards and Ian Culligan, the province’s director of corrections, agreed to transfer Toft to the adjacent adult institution. But moving the aging pedophile out of the youth facility only allowed him to strike again. In 1986, he was invited to Kingsclear’s summer camp by training-school employees who testified that they knew nothing about his sexual history. There, Toft assaulted at least two more boys.

By then, Forbes had taken a job in the Northwest Territories, but his obsession with Toft continued. In 1989, while vacationing in Fredericton, he took his allegations to a CBC radio producer—who did not broadcast the story but approached New Brunswick’s attorney general at the time, James Lockyer, with the story. On Sept. 9,1991, Toft was finally arrested and charged with 27 counts of sexually abusing boys. Charges against Duguay and Raymond followed.

Eight months after the inquiry began, it still dominates New Brunswick newscasts and front pages. That is hardly surprising, considering that testimony linking Hatfield— a flamboyant bachelor who served as premier of New Brunswick from 1970 until 1987—to the Kingsclear scandal continues to add a disturbing subtext to the story. One former Kingsclear resident testified in December that he met Toft and Hatfield in the early 1970s when the two were travelling together in a lime-green Bricklin sports car in northern New Brunswick, and that the then-premier offered him money for sex.

The allegations get even more sensational: a social worker testified that former Kingsclear residents sometimes did yard work at Hatfield’s home—and that the premier once gave a former resident licorice-flavored edible underwear as a Christmas present. Another social worker testified that Hatfield once called the police to charge a former Kingsclear boy who had been working at Hatfield’s house and had stolen his wallet after the pair took a shower together. Lriends of Hatfield, however, have called the allegations outright lies.

But the inquiry remains focused on the role of the justice and correctional systems in the ugly tale. Ahead are six more weeks of hearings, beginning next week when former attorney general Lockyer is due to testify. On Aug. 22, Toft himself is scheduled to take the stand. That promises to be the most dramatic moment yet in the seedy drama that has gripped an entire province.

JOHN DeMONT

BRENDA BOUW