He is arguably New Brunswick’s most infamous criminal. An overweight man with a porcupine-quill haircut, he appeared almost grandfatherly last week as he sat wearing baggy jeans and a plaid shirt in the witness box in the Burton, N.B., courtroom. To the teenage boys he beat, raped and molested while in his care at the Kingsclear New Brunswick Training Centre between 1966 and 1985, Karl Toft is the very epitome of evil. But last week, the former youth counsellor, who is serving 13 years in jail after being convicted on 34 sex-related charges, actually portrayed himself as a victim—of his own warped sexual urges, of lying teenage boys and of dishonest lawyers. His final words before a judicial inquiry into sex abuse at Kingsclear were an emotional plea for absolution. “I would like to apologize to those young men whom I have violated and pray that somehow they can find it in their hearts to forgive me,” said a tearful Toft, who claims to be a born-again Christian. But after watching the outburst, Norm Bosse, lawyer for several of the victims, said he could only think of his clients’ suffering. “Personally,” he declared,
“I find only their tears were credible.”
Reporters outnumbered lawyers in the heavily secured Burton courtroom, located 20 km east of Fredericton, which had been redesigned to handle the 1991 trial of multiple murderer Allan Legere. Federal guards surrounded the 58-year-old Toft as he entered the courthouse wearing handcuffs and leg shackles. Inside, a metal detector screened visitors. Toft’s appearance marked the widely anticipated climax of a ninemonth-long inquiry that has featured testimony suggesting that provincial officials routinely ignored complaints about Toft’s sexual assaults—and hinting at a conspiracy that shielded the pedophile from criminal prosecution for more than 20 years. Toft’s nine hours of testimony also offered a chilling glimpse into the mind of a sexual predator. “People are so willing to consider me a monster of some kind,” he observed at one point, as if astonished at the thought.
In fact, much of Toft’s testimony seemed
A judicial inquiry hears from a key witness
designed to elicit sympathy—perhaps, as the victims’ lawyer contended, with an eye to receiving earlier parole. Toft claimed that, as a fiveor six-year-old, he was sexually assaulted by a cousin. He also recalled how he was kicked out of the airforce in the early 1960s after admitting that he had fallen in love with a 12year-old boy from a Scout troop that he led. But Toft maintained that he had his urges under control when he began working at Kingsclear in 1966. His troubles, he testified, began in the spring of 1967, when one of the boys crawled into his sleeping bag while on a camping trip—and then, by his account, initiated sex.
In this instance, as in most others, Toft insisted he really did nothing wrong. While admitting to molesting up to 55 boys (most of whom have never lodged public complaints), he maintained he never “preyed” on his victims and that the sex was usually by mutual agreement—an astounding statement when contrasted with the horrific tales the inquiry had heard from dozens of Kingsclear residents. He admitted abusing only six of the 48 former residents who have told the inquiry that he forced them to have sex. The rest, he said, “grew up with lies on their lips” and are still lying to try to get financial compensation.
Throughout much of his testimony, Toft spoke calmly and politely. But his composure dissolved when the subject turned to former New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield, who died of cancer in 1991 and who has been
repeatedly linked to the scandal. Toft denied ever meeting the flamboyant politician—let alone, as one former Kingsclear resident testified, introducing the youth to Hatfield while Toft and the then-premier were travelling in northern New Brunswick in a lime-green Bricklin sports car. (The youth testified that Hatfield offered him money for sex.) But the inquiry counsel revealed that only days before his appearance Toft failed a lie detector test when he denied knowing Hatfield. “I am
not lying,” Toft snapped. “I don’t care what the machine says.”
All the same. Toft’s testimony did supply some new twists in a story that inquiry chairman Richard Miller has likened to a “sordid soap opera.” The inquiry had already heard evidence indicating that, following written complaints against Toft by three of his victims, Fredericton police and provincial officials agreed not to lay charges against him, but instead to transfer him to an adjacent adult institution. Last week, though, Toft testified that his superiors had protected him on at least one other occasion. In 1991, members of the provincial solicitor general’s department transferred him to Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Branch out of fear that former Kingsclear counsellor David Forbes, who had caught Toft molesting one of the students in 1985, might go public with his knowledge. “They said Forbes would be trouble,” Toft testified.
In fact, it was due to Forbes’s stubborn persistence that Toft was arrested on Sept. 9, 1991, and charged with 27 counts of sexually abusing boys. Charges against a maintenance man and prison guard working at Kingsclear followed. Last week, his moment in the spotlight over, Toft returned to his Renous, N.B., prison cell, leaving behind dozens of ruined lives—and new questions about how the province’s justice system chose to deal with a monster in their midst.
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