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Ex-Anglican priest found guilty of sexually abusing 2 Yukon First Nations boys in the ’80s

Warning: Some readers may find this story distressing

An ex-Anglican priest has been found guilty of six criminal charges for molesting two Yukon First Nation boys in the ’80s.

The verdict came Wednesday after a two-day trial in Whitehorse described by the judge as “unusual” on several fronts, including the forgiveness and “decent humanity” in the victims’ testimony and the defence choosing not to do any cross-examination. 

David Norton, who’s currently imprisoned in Ontario for sexually abusing children there, was charged last year with two counts each of historic sexual assault, sexual assault and sexual interference in the Yukon cases. 

The abuse occurred between 1983 and 1987, when, according to court documents, Norton was the “Indian Ministries Coordinator” for the Anglican Church’s Yukon diocese. He was also in charge of St. Simon’s Church in Whitehorse, commonly referred to as the Old Log Church, and St. Saviour’s Church in Carcross, Yukon. 

While Norton, 77, pleaded not guilty to all counts, he admitted through his lawyer on Wednesday that convictions were “appropriate” based on the evidence — namely, the testimony of the two victims, the Crown’s only witnesses. 

The defence did not call any evidence. 

‘Nighttime was when those sacrifices came’

Testifying separately on Tuesday and Wednesday, the victims, whose identities are under publication bans, said they became acquainted with Norton after their mother began regularly bringing them to services at the Old Log Church. 

Norton, who attended the trial via video conference, quickly became a family friend, the victims said, and they began spending more time with him inside and outside of church. 

“He showed us a lot of things, taught us a lot of things,” one victim testified. “We loved him — I loved him.” 

The victims became altar boys and accompanied Norton to Carcross for church. Norton also took them camping, to Dairy Queen, to the movies and skidooing, as well as on trips to a cabin at Lake Laberge, to his home in Ontario, and to the Bahamas.

“We came from a poor First Nations family and Dave gave us opportunities to do and see things we never had before,” one victim testified. 

“So I like to look at it as … given those opportunities that we had, we had to make some sacrifices to continue that. And nighttime was when those sacrifices came.” 

The victims testified they regularly slept over at the Old Log Church rectory, where they shared a foam mattress with Norton. 

Both said they woke up on several occasions to Norton with his hand in their underwear fondling them or masturbating while touching them. 

One victim recalled waking up three separate times at the Old Log Church rectory, while the other recalled at least 10 incidents in the Yukon and others in Ontario. 

A log building is seen from the outside.
The victims testified they regularly slept over at the Old Log Church rectory in Whitehorse with Norton. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

The victims told the court they were too young to realize what was happening and although they would “cocoon” themselves in blankets or turn away to try to stop the touching, they still viewed Norton as a role model, guardian and almost another parent.

Neither victim told anyone about what was happening at the time, though one testified that, on a trip to Ontario, he told Norton, “I’m never coming back,” because he “didn’t like what was happening there anymore.” 

The other victim testified he felt “abandoned” after Norton left the Yukon, and that he remained in touch with their family for years afterwards via eagerly-awaited letters and phone calls. 

‘I don’t wish no harm upon him’

Both victims said it wasn’t until years later that they realized what Norton had done to them and the impact of the abuse, with one describing it as “the greatest trauma of my life.” That victim recounted calling Norton in the early 2000s and threatening to come forward if Norton touched any other children. 

The victims testified they began speaking to each other about the abuse, leading to one of them looking up Norton’s name on Google in 2016.

The results included articles about Norton’s trials for sexually abusing boys in Ontario. The victims said details of how he treated those boys — letting them drive his Jeep, teaching them how to read with M&Ms — were “identical” to their experiences.

Norton, in 2017, emailed one of the victims. That same year, the victim contacted a reporter from the London Free Press who had covered Norton’s crimes in Ontario. The reporter put the victim in touch with police, ultimately leading to both victims coming forward to authorities. 

“My motivation was to free myself of all this stuff — been carrying this my entire life,” the victim said. 

While both victims testified the abuse left them with trust issues and has caused them to be very protective of their own children, they also said they held no ill-will. 

“I’ve forgiven him for what he’s done in the past,” one said.

“I don’t wish no harm upon him. He was my friend for a long time. It makes me sad to see him like that.” 

The other victim also said he didn’t “have any bad feelings towards Dave.”

“I wish the best for him in a sense but also you never want that to happen to anybody else,” he said. 

Both victims asked to speak to Norton in private after court ended Wednesday, a request granted by territorial court Chief Judge Michael Cozens. 

While Cozens made findings of guilt on all six charges against Norton, he only convicted the ex-priest on the sexual interference charges due to a legal principle on overlapping criminal charges. 

Before closing the court, Cozens noted the victims’ “graceful, decent” testimony, along with the “very impressive” way they expressed the impact of the crime while also showing “decent humanity.” 

“It’s a pretty rare thing to see in this court,” Cozens said, adding the defence’s decision to not cross-examine also deserved recognition.

Norton’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Friday. He’s currently serving a nine-year-long prison sentence at the Bath Institution in Ontario after being found guilty in 2018 of sexually abusing four boys from Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. He also separately pleaded guilty to molesting another boy, for which he received a four-year sentence.

Norton abused the victims in Ontario before leaving for and after returning from the Yukon.

Besides being a priest, Norton was also a history professor at King’s University College in London, Ont., an affiliate of Western University, and has a PhD in Native History. He was put on leave from his teaching position when he was first charged with sexual assault in 2015 and later resigned.

According to The Anglican Journal, the then-bishop of the Huron diocese suspended Norton’s permit to function as a priest the same year, and Norton “relinquished his exercise of ministry as an Anglican priest” in 2016.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. In Yukon, you can contact the Sexualized Assault Response Team.

​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.

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