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1972 buggery charge dropped against Catholic chaplain

Cases like these are chilling for Canadian seniors, says Richard Hudler

A former military chaplain arrested on seven charges, including buggery, saw all charges dropped by the Crown in a Barrie court last week.

Roger Bazin, 74, of Manitoba, was arrested in Barrie in February 2010 and charged with buggery, gross indecency and indecent assault on a teenager. The arrest followed a June 2009 complaint, causing the military to investigate incidents dating back to 1972, when Bazin was based at CFB Borden, just outside Barrie.

Crown Michael Minns withdrew the charges because “there did not exist a reasonable prospect of conviction.”

Gay people followed the case because of the buggery charge. Buggery is no longer illegal in Canada, but since sexual assault has no statute of limitation, Bazin was charged for having anal sex, even though it is no longer considered a crime in Canada.

Canada inherited its buggery law — which covers both anal sex and bestiality — from Britain. In 1969, the law was relaxed to exclude consensual sex if both partners were over the age of 21. In 1988, the buggery law was scrapped altogether and replaced with a prohibition on anal sex for people under the age of 18. That law has been struck down in several jurisdictions, including Ontario, because it sets a different age of consent for gay sex, 18, than straight sex, 16.

Queer Ontario member Richard Hudler says he feels cases like these are chilling for gay Canadian seniors. The 68-year-old gay man feels the government has no business using outdated charges.

“It’s good to hear the charges were dropped. But I was actively gay before the law was changed. So that means [the government] could go back and charge me for anything. If they went back before 1969, any gay activity was illegal. If they decided they want to get you on something, they can use something like [buggery],” says Hudler. 

Bishop Donald Thériault, head of the Roman Catholic Military Diocese of Canada, says he is pleased with this case because “it removes the suspicion of one of our priests who had a wonderful career.”

“We have to presume justice was done. In all fairness for the alleged victim, I don’t know him, but I wish him well. Roger is very happy with the outcome and wants to pursue his life as a retiree,” says Thériault.

Thériault says there is a fear among Cathoic priests of being falsely accused of sex crimes. In the last year, he has spoken with Bazin; he noted that the former priest went through a difficult time but says he will move on with his life.

“I think when a priest is found innocent, I think he has the inner resources and personal satisfaction to put the weight on his ministry, rely on God and move on and help people. Roger has been a dedicated man even in retirement. I hope he will continue to be a happy man and in good health. But those sorts of situations are always a black eye, tarnishing the church and clergy.”

“For the media, stories like these go up their alley of sensationalism. Because priests are supposed to be celibate, there’s an appreciation of a priest as a trusted person, and there are always questions in people’s minds. People tend to point at priests involved in illicit or inappropriate behaviour. That’s really not the case. Statistics show we have way fewer incidents than other social professions. But the damage has already been done when priests are found innocent or have their charges dropped. It’s a hard thing to deal with in the church, but if we lose confidence, it makes it hard for us to serve people,” says Thériault.

Thériault would not comment on the state of Bazin’s personal health, saying only that there is nothing significant going on in his life at the moment.

“We don’t intend to make any statement. It was a civilian case,” says military spokesperson Marie Tremblay.

Xtra was unable to reach Bazin’s lawyer, Sheldon Pinx.

Bazin lives in Manitoba with his 79-year-old sister. Over the last year, he had several Barrie court appearances. He was present in court only once and was quietly whisked away after his appearance.

Bazin was ordained in 1962 and later became a chaplain with the Canadian Armed Forces. He eventually rose to the rank of chaplain-general and later, brigadier-general and eventually, chief military chaplain in 1992. He retired in 1995.

In 2005, Bazin was accused by a Thunder Bay family of engaging in “inappropriate activity” with a 16-year-old boy. At the time, Bazin was working in a Thunder Bay Catholic church. Criminal charges were never filed, but church officials later confirmed that Bazin had settled privately with the family and paid them $24,000.