UPDATE FEB 23: Questions about the legality of charges against retired military chaplain Roger Bazin go beyond the application of Canada’s now-defunct buggery law.
That’s because, at the time of the offence in 1972, Canada’s military police were not able to arrest or prosecute in cases of sexual assault, as officials with the Canadian Forces now admit.
UPDATE FEB 22: Bishop Donald Thériault, head of the Roman Catholic Military Diocese of Canada, hinted that retired military chaplain Roger Bazin may be the victim of a public smear after charges were laid against Bazin last week.
“It seems as though a victimization has taken part… whatever way it happened,” he told Xtra in an interview Feb 22, referring to either Bazin or his accuser.
Thériault says that Bazin maintains his innocence and will fight the charges in court. The bishop described Bazin, now in his 70s, as “a gentleman and a lovely guy.”
“Every time I met him, it was always the same impression: people had the highest regard for him. He was well-liked,” Thériault says. “People liked him very much. He was a good listener; he never overreacted, had a friendly manner and was very supportive.”
FEB 19: Buggery may not be illegal anymore, but that hasn’t stopped police in Ontario from charging a man in his 70s with an offence that’s almost 40 years old.
Details are gradually emerging about the case against a retired army chaplain, but crucial questions — including why police are using an archaic law to prosecute him — have yet to be answered.
When the alleged encounters happened, Roger Bazin was a young man and Roman Catholic chaplain at CFB Borden. Before retiring in 1995, he achieved the rank of brigadier-general and chief commander of all Catholic chaplains in the Forces.
The Toronto Star is reporting today that Canadian Forces paid a settlement to the family of another (male) teen in 2006 because of his relationship with Bazin.
Now the retired chaplain faces a basket of charges, including sexual assault.
Bazin was also charged with buggery, a now-abolished law, a fact that has alarmed gay activists.
“Certainly, you wonder why they’re using that,” says Richard Hudler, one of a clutch of seasoned gay activists working with the newly-formed Queer Ontario.
He suspects that Bazin’s lawyer will petition to have the buggery charge dropped. He says that in the 1990s, men were charged with breaching an anal sex law that had been ruled unconstitutional. But because men didn’t know they could challenge the law, police used it to leverage longer prison sentences and as a weapon during plea-bargaining.
“Most of the people who were charged didn’t know that it had been found unconstitutional and some plead guilty,” says Hudler.
In 1972, at the time of the alleged offence, anal sex was illegal unless it was conducted in private, between two people, and both parties were at least 21 years of age.
Peter Bochove, a Toronto bathhouse owner and longtime gay activist, says that while he hasn’t been following the case closely, the reports so far raise more questions than they answer.
“How will this man defend himself nearly four decades after the fact? For that matter, how can there be any evidence to prosecute him successfully?” he says.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Forces investigation service insists that the application of the law as it stood in 1972 is both legal and ethical.
“He’s being charged for buggery because it was a legitimate charge under the Criminal Code of 1972 when the alleged offence happened,” says Paule Poulin, who’s working with the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.
Poulin says civilian police are not involved because the alleged incident took place on an army base — CFB Borden.
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 with 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.
The current chaplain general, Brigadier-General David Kettle, said in a Feb 16 statement<:
“I am aware of charges brought against retired Brigadier-general Roger Bazin, former Chaplain General, for what was then the Roman Catholic Chaplain Branch of the Canadian Forces. As the present Chaplain General, I was shocked by these allegations. I take very seriously the charges laid against a former Chaplain General for alleged actions committed while serving as a unit chaplain in 1972.”
Representatives from the Roman Catholic Church have not yet replied to questions posed by Xtra.
— With files from Marcus McCann