'You shine a light': Ottawa brothers, victims of incest, lift publication ban on their names

·4 min read
Jonathan Lepage, pictured, and his brother Shawn successfully had the publication ban lifted on a case where their mother was convicted of incest and sexual assault, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
Jonathan Lepage, pictured, and his brother Shawn successfully had the publication ban lifted on a case where their mother was convicted of incest and sexual assault, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

Warning: This story contains graphic details some readers may find disturbing.

When Jonathan Lepage speaks of his mother, he has to say her full name: Julie Menard.

On Friday morning, Lepage and his brother Shawn won their case to have a publication ban lifted so their mother's name is now publicly tied to her conviction for incest and sexual assault.

The removal of a publication ban in an incest case is remarkably rare, and can only happen if a victim initiates it. The Lepage brothers said they fought to make their case public because they didn't want the trauma they endured at the hands of their mother to remain in the dark.

Menard, a former Ottawa school bus driver, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in late April.

Jonathan, who protected his brother from some of the same abuses he suffered as a boy, had hoped for a life sentence of 25 years.

He has now accepted his name, and that of his brother's, will also be linked to the abuses they were victims of.

"I don't need protection," the 35-year-old said Thursday night about lifting the ban.

"My brother Shawn does not need protection. We've discussed it ad nauseam that all the publication ban does now is protect Julie. [It] protects our mother from being exposed."

WATCH | Jonathan Lepage on lifting the publication ban:

2017 legal troubles

Court documents detail a series of horrific sexual abuses, which often involved Menard calling for "nap time," and Jonathan knowing what was expected of him.

He said his mother told him these sexual activities were normal between a mother and son, but following a sexual intercourse event with his mother when he was 15, he felt things weren't right.

"We've gone down to the living room, and it just kind of hit me," he recalled.

Menard's actions might have never come to light had it not been for Jonathan's own run-ins with the law in 2017, when he was charged and jailed following the breakdown of his marriage.

As his own trial was underway, Jonathan told a probation officer about the abuse he suffered, and courthouse staff offered to help.

Other children might have been victims

Jonathan wants his mother's name publicized so the truth is spread widely, and because she was a school bus driver for many years.

Submitted by Jonathan Lepage
Submitted by Jonathan Lepage

"[She] had close relationships with many a student whose names I don't know," Jonathan said. "And quite frankly, if anything did happen, no one would even know to bring it up."

Ottawa police issued a news release Friday afternoon because investigators believe there may be other victims of Menard, who is not currently facing any additional charges.

In an Ottawa courtroom on Friday, Crown attorney Moiz Karimjee told the brothers there is no going back once the ban is lifted.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Kevin Phillips also underlined that point: "You can't un-ring a bell."

Menard opposed lifting the ban, which is generally put in place to protect victims rather than the accused.

Younger brother hopes to help others by lifting ban

Shawn Lepage, 34, also spoke in court Friday in favour of the ban being lifted.

"Personally, I feel like these conversations may be necessary to help others through their situations," he told court.

Shawn was not subject to the same abuses as his brother, according to court documents, but he testified to numerous instances of physical abuse starting when he was three years old, including severe bruises from beatings by his mother.

Jonathan recalls being between seven and nine when he first stood up for his younger brother. He said his mother invited Shawn with sexual touching, and Jonathan knew it wasn't right.

"In the moment, there was just something about it," Jonathan said. "Like, no, my brother can't also go through this."

Shawn told CBC he went through the process of reporting the abuse to police and attending court to help his brother find some closure.

"I didn't expect what we got, which was respect. We were listened to. And we were acknowledged and I think that hit me... [with] ... way more emotion than I was expecting."

Judge commends brothers

Jonathan said no matter the length of his mother's sentence, those years served would never heal what has been done to him.

"It would not take away the trauma, the pain, the experiences I've gone through. It would not mend relationships that were broken due to the trauma and experiences I had."

He also acknowledged "reliving and rehashing" his experience won't be easy, but he accepts that burden to hopefully inspire any other potential victims.

"If it encourages them to step forward — phenomenal," he said.

In court Friday, Phillips also told the brothers they had "been victimized in a most reprehensible way," but they were "motivated by a desire to help others."

"You shine a light on the kind of wrongdoing that happens in private so that others who are enduring bad things might not feel so alone and disempowered," he said in court.

"One hopes that through the forthright and open way that you are choosing to navigate your unfortunate circumstances that you will be better able to overcome your experience."

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