‘A beacon of hope’: Catholic priests’ appeal in sex-assault case rejected by Supreme Court

In 2018, the Basilian Fathers were ordered to pay Rod MacLeod just over $2.5 million for abuse he suffered in the 1960s. On Thursday, the years’-long legal dispute — the subject of a TVO Original documentary — finally came to a close
By Nathaniel Basen - Published on Apr 30, 2020
Matt Gallagher’s TVO Original documentary Prey premiered in November 2019.

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When the ruling came down today, Rod MacLeod says, he felt “absolutely wonderful, like a load has been lifted off my shoulders.” His lawyer, Rob Talach, was more effusive, “I’m just overjoyed. I’ve given the occasional hoot and holler in my house, and everyone thinks I’ve lost my marbles.”

This morning, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected an appeal from the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, bringing an end to a years’-long legal dispute. In April 2018, the Basilians were ordered to pay MacLeod just over $2.5 million, including $500,000 in punitive damages, stemming from a sexual-assault case in the 1960s. MacLeod was abused by Father Hodgson Marshall, then a Basilian priest, when MacLeod was a student at St. Charles College high school in Sudbury. During Marshall’s trial, in which he was found guilty of sexually abusing 17 victims, it was revealed that the Basilians had had at least three prior complaints about him prior to transferring him to St. Charles.

The story is the focus of Prey, an award-winning TVO Original documentary released last year.

“I’m not shy to say we were nervous,” says Talach. “You know, you always worry, the further you get from the folks who heard the evidence. And the more technical the arguments become, in my opinion, the more likely it is for an injustice to occur. So I know Rod and I both had very rough sleeps last night.”

“I was very nervous,” says MacLeod. “Because what they were asking for was a whole new trial, and anything can come out of a trial when you have to redo it all. Then it could be another couple of years before we get a resolution. So I was certainly concerned.”

The case could have far-reaching implications for victims of sexual assault. Talach says that two aspects of the decision are particularly critical. “First and flashiest,” he says, “is the fact that half a million dollars was taken from the Basilians as a sort of fine — what we call punitive damages. So the first thing this decision says is: if you’re an institution, and you engage in a cover-up or complicity in sexual abuse, you’re going to pay a big price tag. And that’s really significant, because there’s nothing in our criminal or regulatory law that really does that for us.” Second, he says, “it also clarified and established a lower legal test to prove economic loss in cases of sexual assault.”

“Rod is completely vindicated and victorious now,” Talach says. “There are no other legal routes of retreat or appeal for the Basilians here. It’s time for them to pay — it’s time for them to practise what they preach.”

MacLeod says he hopes this will act as a “beacon of hope for everyone that, in our wonderful country of Canada, you can get justice through the court system.”

For him, he says, this feels like the end of a dark chapter: “It’s finally been put to bed, and now I can go and sail around the world with [my partner] Carole. I’m going to go buy a boat.”

Watch Prey on TVO.org here.


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