Years before Brian Boucher became a priest, families warned of his troubling behaviour with boys

Long before Brian Boucher became a priest, when he was still in his early 20s, several families in Montreal's West Island were so alarmed by the man's troubling interest in young boys that they complained to their parish priest.

Boucher, 57, went on to be ordained as a priest in 1996 and worked at several English-language churches in the Montreal Roman Catholic archdiocese, including in Pointe-Claire, LaSalle and the Town of Mount Royal.

Last March, Boucher was convicted of sexually abusing two boys from two different Montreal-area parishes. He's now serving eight years in prison.

An investigation by CBC Montreal published last month revealed parishioners repeatedly warned the Montreal archdiocese about Boucher's worrisome behaviour with boys as far back as the mid-1990s and throughout his career as a priest.

Now new information obtained by CBC shows the church actually received complaints about Boucher a full decade earlier, even before he was accepted as a candidate for the priesthood.

When Boucher was in his early 20s, he attended St. Veronica's in Dorval, where he taught catechism classes and was also involved with the church's youth group.

After a series of upsetting incidents involving Boucher and their young sons, three sets of parents wrote a joint letter to the archdiocese and shared their concerns with the priest at St. Veronica's, Rev. Robert Harris.

"Hey, something is up with this guy, and you guys need to keep an eye on him," was the tenor of the message to church officials, one of the now-grown sons said his father told him.

No one from the archdiocese followed up, one of the parents who signed the letter told CBC.

"The silence was deafening."

'This guy's not right'

CBC corroborated this information with two parents who signed the letter, as well as several of the children involved, who are now adults.

CBC is not using their real names because they fear reprisals from Boucher once he is released from prison.

One of the children, now in his 40s, said Boucher began to socialize with him and his friends outside church. CBC is calling him Ryan.

When he was about 11, he said, Boucher invited him and other boys to his home a few times to watch Eddie Murphy's stand-up films, which were full of swearing and off-colour jokes. Occasionally, Boucher offered beer to the older boys, who were only 12 or 13 at the time.

"He was definitely trying to get us to talk raunchy," Ryan said.

During a catechism class, Ryan said, he vividly remembered Boucher steering the conversation toward masturbation.

"I didn't even know what masturbation was," he said.

Ryan said Boucher then asked another boy to explain it to him.

Another man, who CBC is calling Jason, said Boucher had also been his catechism teacher. Jason, too, recalled going to movie nights at Boucher's home and said Boucher raised sexually explicit subjects with them, including masturbation.

"I was 10, and I realized this guy's not right," said Jason.

Ryan's parents put an end to his outings with Boucher after Boucher took Ryan to an air show and brought him home late.

There is no doubt in Ryan's mind that Boucher was trying to groom him.

His parents had the same concern.

"We always asked our kids, 'Did he ever touch you inappropriately?'" said Ryan's mother.

They told her he had not, but that didn't ease her fears, and she and her husband tried to keep their children away from Boucher.

"We thought it was odd. A guy in his early 20s, trying to hang out with younger guys," Ryan's mother told CBC.

Robert Harris alerted in 1980s and 1990s

Two other families had similar concerns about Boucher's behaviour.

The three families decided to put their complaints in writing, in a joint letter, believing a letter would be taken seriously.

One of the parents who signed the letter spoke directly to Harris, St. Veronica's parish priest, and gave it to him.

Charles Contant/CBC

It's unclear what Harris did with it or who he notified about the complaints.

Boucher went on to be accepted as a candidate for the priesthood in 1987.

Ryan's mother said when she and her family found out, they "were kind of appalled."

Harris left St. Veronica's in 1989 and was named director of Montreal's Grand Seminary, where candidates for the Roman Catholic priesthood get their training.

It was in his role as the seminary's director that Harris received another complaint about Boucher, in 1995.

By then, Boucher was a seminarian, interning at St. John Fisher Church in Pointe-Claire.

As CBC Montreal reported last month, a parishioner at that church told CBC he contacted Harris because he was worried about Boucher's controlling and manipulative behaviour with children in the youth group. The parishioner did not think Boucher should become a priest.

Run-in at Camp Kinkora

The parishioners at St. Veronica's with whom CBC spoke said they don't recall seeing much of Boucher after he entered the seminary, until a chance meeting at Camp Kinkora, a Catholic children's summer camp in the Laurentians, around 1996.

Boucher was a newly ordained priest, there to celebrate mass.

Ryan's mother and a friend saw him as he arrived by car.

"Our stomachs just fell. We could see he was alone with this young boy," she said.

The boy appeared to be nine or 10 years old and had travelled with Boucher to the camp, she said.

A few volunteers got the child involved with some camp activities in an effort to separate him from Boucher.

"We didn't have any evidence anything was going on, but it just gave you a creepy feeling," she said.

Police find St. Veronica's letter

More than two decades passed before Boucher was arrested in 2017 and charged with sexual crimes against two minors.

During their investigation, Montreal police found the letter from the St. Veronica's families and contacted them.

Rachel Cave/CBC

A detective contacted Jason.

"Right away, in my head, I said, 'I bet this is about Brian Boucher,'" said Jason. "That sort of shows how it stayed with me."

He said it was heartbreaking to follow Boucher's trial last year and to hear what the victims had endured.

Jason said he doesn't understand how Boucher was allowed to become a priest, let alone work in so many different parishes.

"Someone dropped the ball," said Jason. "People knew and didn't act."

News of Boucher's crimes also left Ryan's parents angry and sickened.

"Why the hell wasn't our letter given more thought?" said Ryan's father.

"We weren't listened to," said his wife. "You feel almost betrayed."

Robert Harris, who retired last month as the bishop of Saint John, N.B., did not respond to CBC's request for an interview.

A spokesperson for the Montreal archdiocese said officials there would not comment until a class action lawsuit from one of Boucher's victims is resolved and the results of an independent investigation launched by Archbishop Christian Lépine are made public later this year.