CORNWALL — Hollywood scriptwriters would have been hardpressed to come up with a more intriguing plot: a paedophile ring with a membership list of prominent citizens holding wild sex orgies in a secluded cottage a few miles east of this quiet community of 46,000.
The ring was said to include a Roman Catholic bishop, priests, the Cornwall police chief, other high-ranking police officers, a probation officer, a Crown attorney and some of the community’s leading businessmen.
Vulnerable boys, some as young as 10 years old, were, so the story went, lured to the den of iniquity with gifts and money. The clan used them as personal sex toys with rituals that included men clad in white sheets lusting after their naked, young prey who had candles inserted into their rectums.
The ring operated with impunity for years, thanks to a membership that included people in positions of power.
At least that was the tale spun by Ron Leroux, a part-time painter, to Cornwall police officer Perry Dunlop in the early 1990s.
Leroux claimed to have witnessed the orgies firsthand at the cottage as well as at other locations, one being a motel in Fort Lauderdale, where the clan was said to have spent winter vacations, sometimes bringing young boys from Cornwall with them.
Dunlop and wife Helen were carrying out an unauthorized investigation of sexual abuse in Cornwall and area. He pounced on Leroux’s story.
The tale was not only the driving force behind a four-year OPP investigation — dubbed Project Truth — but prompted the Dalton McGuinty government to set up the Cornwall Public Inquiry to investigate the way institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church, law enforcement agencies and the Children’s Aid Society, handled complaints of sexual abuse.
The clan story also harmed reputations and drove gay probation officer Ken Seguin to commit suicide.
The OPP investigation, that included hundreds of interviews by a four-man team, found no evidence of the ring.
But that only added fuel to rumours of a high-level cover-up.
Dunlop’s private investigation would get him in hot water with his superiors. He would eventually resign from the force and move to British Columbia, where he still lives.
For almost 14 years this community lived under the dark shadow cast by Leroux’s account.
Leroux’s affidavit, containing graphic details and names, became the cornerstone of the controversial website, Projecttruth.com operated by Dick Nadeau. The website was short on fact and long on rumours and innuendo.
The website fed the paedophile-ring frenzy that gripped the community.
Within weeks of the site being set up, it had 30,000 hits.
Copies of Leroux’s statement were downloaded hundreds of times and distributed in factories and coffee shops.
Soon, everybody was talking about the “paedophile ring” as a fact and names were tossed around like frisbees.
The witchhunt was in full gear.
One prominent businessman whose name was linked to the alleged ring suffered a nervous breakdown and a dozen years later still suffers the effects of the website’s false accusations.
The gay and lesbian community became particularly vulnerable as the line between homosexuality and paedophilia became blurred.
I can still remember a call from a member of the citizens coalition, a group headed by Dunlop’s brother-in-law Carson Chisholm, calling me to complain about the alleged cover-up and how my newspaper (the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder) wasn’t doing enough to expose “these homos.”
When it was pointed out to the caller that he was lumping homosexuals and paedophiles together, his remark spoke volumes.
“They’re all queers. Instead of burying them they should just chisel their heads and pound them into the ground.”
Don Johnson, a former Crown attorney and now the city’s top criminal defence lawyer, agrees that the line between gays and paedophiles has been blurred.
Johnson defended three persons charged by Project Truth and won all three cases.
However, he points out that because of the hysteria created by the paedophile clan tale, they’ll never be acquitted in the court of public opinion.
Johnson never bought into the paedophile ring story.
“I knew it was bogus right from the start. It was a piece of fiction taken from a book,” he said.
Unfortunately, a large chunk of the city’s population suspended disbelief and accepted the story as gospel.
But then came the inquiry that was going to expose all the lies and deceit by the people in power and have clan members running for the proverbial hills.
Ron Leroux was going to get an opportunity to repeat the story under oath.
And he did.
The conspiracy theorists had visions of prominent Cornwall citizens being dragged off in handcuffs.
It was going to be their red-letter day.
Leroux’s testimony was indeed shocking — but not because it exposed a clan of paedophiles.
Instead, Leroux, under questioning by inquiry counsel Peter Engelmann came clean.
The paedophile clan story was made up. A piece of fiction, he said. In fact, many of the people he named in his affidavit were his friends.
And why the clan story?
Leroux told the inquiry he had fallen victim to the witchhunt.
He said Dunlop had been pressuring him for a clan-type story so he made one up.
Leroux even suggested that some of the statements contained in the affidavit were added by Dunlop and Dunlop’s Newmarket lawyer, Charlie Bourgeois.
“I never read anything they put down,” Leroux told the inquiry. “I never took the time to read it. I was on a hell of a merry-go-round for a few years with them. Anything could have been written in there. I wouldn’t even say anything about it.”
The tale came out of a book about an alleged paedophile clan in the United States.
When asked by Engelmann for his definition of a paedophile, Leroux blurted out “a queer.”
Leroux also said his story about the group taking young boys to Fort Lauderdale for sexual pleasure was made up as well.
The shocking admission stunned the inquiry.
But it wasn’t the first time the inquiry heard an alleged victim recant his story.
On two previous occasions, alleged victims testified that they wrongly named a Roman Catholic priest as their abuser.
One said he didn’t even know the priest, Father Charles MacDonald.
“I was just told to put his name in the affidavit,” he admitted.
Leroux’s stunning admission wasn’t expected by lawyers representing the institutions linked to his affidavit and they were eager to quiz him.
However, they never got a chance to cross-examination Leroux.
A psychiatrist ruled that Leroux was not mentally fit to undergo cross-examination. He was excused by inquiry commissioner Normand Glaude. Incredibly, despite the shocking admission, Helen Dunlop still believes in Leroux’s original story.
“To this day, I still believe what he told us was the truth,” she told the inquiry. “Yes, he was telling the truth.”
Judging from Ms Dunlop’s reaction, the black cloud put over this community by the bogus paedophile clan tale and the resulting witchhunt isn’t going away anytime soon.