Convicted sex offender Donald Sullivan had volunteered with Scouts Canada in N.L.

·3 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A former Scouts leader convicted in Ottawa of sex crimes against young boys was also a volunteer with the organization in Newfoundland and Labrador, and a lawyer specializing in sexual abuse cases says people in the province should know that.

Donald Sullivan was 68 when he was convicted in 2019 in Ontario for five counts of gross indecency for crimes he committed against 10 boys when he was a volunteer Scouts leader in Ottawa from 1972 to 1977. Nine of the victims were in Scouts or Cubs, according to court documents. 

He was also convicted of one count of sexual assault unrelated to his time with the Scouts and was sentenced to a total of six years in prison.

Scouts Canada spokeswoman Kayleigh Kanoza confirmed in an email that before moving to Ottawa, Sullivan was a volunteer with the 1st Teresa troop in Newfoundland and Labrador from 1968 to 1972, but she said there is no record of complaints about him from that time.

Records don't say where the 1st Teresa troop was located in the province, she said.

Lawyer Loretta Merritt has been involved with cases against Scouts Canada for decades, including one ongoing civil case involving Sullivan. She says Scouts Canada should alert people in Newfoundland and Labrador about Sullivan's past.

“It's hard to think of any other area in which a potential defendant would ever actively encourage potential plaintiffs to come forward," Merritt said in an interview.

"But when you're an organization dedicated to enhancing the welfare of children and know that there's a possibility that . . . actual horrors have happened to children with whose care you are entrusted, there may be -- if not legal obligations -- certainly higher moral obligations, that supersede your own self-interest in not getting sued.” 

Merritt said if there are victims in the province, knowing they aren't alone could help them seek help, heal and even come forward. She said Sullivan was dismissed from Scouts Canada in 1977.

In an emailed statement, Kanoza of Scouts Canada said Ottawa police contacted them in 2018 with allegations against Sullivan and they handed over their records on him, including records showing he was a volunteer in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Police have given us no indication that youth in Newfoundland have been impacted, nor do we have any record of complaints against Mr. Sullivan from his time volunteering in Newfoundland," she said.

She said Scouts does not conduct its own investigations into misconduct allegations, and there are no records of who was in the 1st Teresa troop when Sullivan was a volunteer.

The Ottawa Police Service, when asked if anyone from the force contacted police in Newfoundland and Labrador, said their investigation "did not lead to any out-of-province assistance or followups." A spokeswoman said police advisories seeking information about Sullivan said potential victims would have come in contact with him "as far back as 1972," which would not cover his time in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Merritt said historical institutional abuse cases are complicated. If a child is being harmed in the present, there is a legal obligation to do something about it. But knocking on possible victims’ doors decades after they may have been abused is not a good policy, she said. It could make existing trauma worse and expose victims who don’t want to be exposed.

Any kind of a policy explored and adopted by an institution to notify possible victims of historical abuse needs to be focused on supporting people who might be ready to come forward, Merritt said.

“The point is more about making a safe space for them to come forward if they’re ready,” she said. “I think that’s what needs to happen.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2020.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press